The concept behind Immy Humes’ The Only Woman is fascinating: one hundred photographs that include one woman in a group of men, ranging in time from the 1860s through 2020, drawn from hundreds of examples Humes collected over the years. Some are well known—both the woman and the photograph. Others are literally unknown, including a woman identified only as “Mascot.” (Grrr.)
Humes presents the pictures twice. First she shows the photographs as full page images accompanied by a brief essay, in no particular order that I could discern, though given the thoughtfulness of the work as a whole I have no doubt there is an organizing principle. Then she arranges the photographs in chronological order as black and white thumbnail images, with the only woman in each image identified with a white circle. I found this version fascinating. It not only made it possible to go back and find the woman in the larger photos—something I found difficult to do in many of the pictures*—but it gave many of the women a prominence that they otherwise did not enjoy. (Maybe that’s two ways of saying the same thing now that I think about it.)
Humes sums up the impact of the photographs as a whole in the brief, provocative essay that accompanies them: “Against this wild variety of time, place, occupations and cultures is a repetitive counterpoint of sameness. The same ludicrous constellation of many men, one woman, over and over again.”
I’ve been dipping into the book for several months now, considering the stories and images that Humes shares. I’ve read her introductory essay several times. There are women I want to know more about and ideas that I want to think over.** (I’ve also come to the conclusion that if you are going to be the only woman in a photograph of formally dressed people arrayed in rows and facing the camera, you should wear a hat if you want to be seen: the biggest, wildest hat you can manage.)
It’s been an interesting counterpoint to the book I’m writing about a woman who was often the Only Woman in the Room, except when she wasn’t.
*Think a real life version of “Where’s Waldo?”
**Just so you know, some of those ideas and thoughts may well appear in my newsletter, which will resume publication once I turn in this book manuscript. (May 1 or bust!) You can subscribe here http://eepurl.com/dIft-b —May 1 is practically tomorrow.
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Come back on Monday for 3 Questions and an Answer with Rebecca Grawl of A Tour of Her Own.