When photography tells the emancipation of women

Women pushing carts coming up from the mine, around 1910, in Bruay-en Artois (Pas-de-Calais). Others at once towed a fishing boat to Sables-d’Olonne (Vendée). Or even a washerwoman cleaning linen by the water’s edge, in Moulins (Allier), around 1900. From the beginning of the 20th century, in France, many poor women had to earn a living, even before the first war was they are not pushed into the places where the men called to the front used to work: munitions factories, the postal service, public transport, engine factories and even chimneys that had to be swept.

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The exhibition, which will be held at the Roger-Viollet gallery until March 25, begins with these old black and white photographs that bear witness to a time both distant and familiar. We meet Catherinettes there – these young fashion employees who reach the age of 25 who then have to wear the original hat if they haven’t found a husband yet! – and activists gathered in 1914 within a committee for women’s suffrage. In 1936, women demonstrating in a Front Populaire procession, and others marching with the CGT domestic workers’ union. Another scene, at the end of the Second World War: the women who were shaved in the Liberation because they frequented the Nazi occupiers, were judged and condemned by the men.

Consumer society and feminist movements

With the advent of color photographs, the legend of the Glorious Thirties began, with the rise of the consumer society, and the return of women to the home imposed by a pronatalist policy that would lead to a baby-boom, though eventually them. the right to vote has been demanded for decades. Household arts have a living room and impose modernity on homes, as summarized by this wonderful image by Laure Albin Guillot titled Woman going through an upright vacuum cleaner (1950s). Advertising, too, became ubiquitous and promoted the car, necessarily accompanied by an elegant, slim woman wearing a Newlook dress in the style imposed since 1947 by a young couturier called Christian Dior.

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Through bikinis, beaches, cafe terraces or jukeboxes, the narrative in the images of the 1960s unfolds, then, more focused, that of the 1970s, with its feminist movements, which are particularly illustrated by the images of two women photographer, Catherine Deudon and Janine niece. Demonstrations for free abortion, images of the French Movement for Family Planning and the trial in Bobigny, whose lawyer Gisèle Halimi, will lead the “Choose” movement. The pantheonization of this women’s liberation figure, who died in 2020, is still controversial today.

The exhibition A photographic history of women in the 20th century, at the Roger-Viollet gallery. On the right wall, part of the archive. Credit: Anne-Marie Rocco

Without being highlighted more than the anonymous people seen in these images, emblematic women were present, their commitments accompanied and sometimes led to the liberation of women in these decades : Colette, Sagan, Beauvoir, Simone Veil of course, but also Coco Chanel, Marguerite Yourcenar, Duras, Barbara or Juliette Gréco. And Bardot, of course.

The exhibition is presented in the historic premises of the former Roger-Viollet agency, founded in 1938 by Hélène Roger-Viollet from the photographic collection gathered by her father. At the head of an archive consisting of approximately 6 million photos, this place known to all Paris lovers was taken over by the City of Paris in 1994 and turned into a gallery. “This is an exhibition for the younger generation”, explains Gilles Taquet, director of the gallery. It captures some of the 300 images chosen for the beautiful book published in November, under the signature of journalist Agnès Grossmann, whose title it shares: A photographic history of women in the 20th century.

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