ABIGAIL HEYMAN - Growing Up Female - a Personal Photojournal By Abigail Heyman
... Photobooks are commonly discussed, especially since the books about photobooks industry started to take off. There are many reasons why those kinds of books are doing the community a huge favour. After all, not only do they discuss the medium photobook in ways that it truly deserves, they also expose a lot of unknown books to a larger audience. Except, of course, that often enough you then see those books listed on Ebay, say, with, for example, “Parr/Badger” included in the subject line... Read for more ...
They say that the internet has been bad for bookshops, those that sell new books and those that sell used ones. It's probably true. Truth be told, I don't mind seeing corporate bookshops struggle, because it really doesn't matter much to me which corporation wins out. And it's not like going to Barnes and Noble is going to like a real bookshop. OK, they do have books, but it's almost as if the books are an afterthought.
(Keep in mind I grew up in Germany, where there is a long tradition of smaller, independent bookshops.)
I do care about second-hand bookshops, though. Where I live (Western Massachusetts), there are many. Since I moved here, I've seen some of them fold. One, in Amherst, closed down because its owner wanted to just sell the books online. It was cheaper, he said. I believed it. Another one, in Hatfield, closed – or actually relocated plus merged with another one – because its owner was going blind, and running a bookshop alone wasn't an option any longer. But quite a few ones are still around. There are three in town (assuming I'm remembering them all), and I went to one today.
They say that the internet is good and bad for photobooks, and it's true. It's good because now you can sell your own books, or you can order them from who-knows-where without having to rely on a bookshop. That's great. On the other hand, you can't find any treasures any longer, they say, because owners know what they have: they check the web before they sell their wares.
So let's just assume that that's true (I don't think it always is). We'd have to ask what's wrong with that. Why wouldn't you want to pay what the market thinks is a fair price? Wouldn't you want to support the owner of the shop where you can browse books in a way that just doesn't exist online? (Do you really think browsing for books on, say, Alibris is even remotely close to doing it in real life?)
What's more, there are deals, and then there are deals. If you're looking for your copy of, say, Fukase's Solitude of Ravens for $10, then you're probably in for a disappointment. But here's the thing, second-hand bookshops are filled with books that did not make it into any of those books about photobooks, such as the Parr/Badger ones. And those books can be had for, well, next to nothing.
If you just keep looking, you can find the most amazing stuff. Time and again, this leaves me wondering about the world of photobooks and how we approach them. Everybody is trying to get the books in Parr/Badger or in those “best of” lists that blossom like weeds at the end of each year. But I'm often surprised how few people seem to look for books that aren't in any of those lists, even though they have a lot to offer.
Today, I found Abigail Heyman's Growing Up Female. It was $6.00. I had never heard of it before. Published in 1974, it's a fantastic book. I was floored when I looked more closely at it at the shop, and I'm even more floored now. I don't think its content is any less relevant today than it was when it was made. It's a profoundly moving and honest book with a lot of great photographs (and it's edited and sequenced very, very well).
Given I didn't know anything about it, I Googled Heyman's name, and I found a New York Times obituary. In the obituary, the book is described as a “sort of illustrated encyclopedia of women performing self-limiting roles,” which is sort of bullshit. There's talk of “claustrophobic black-and-white images of almost clinical detail,” which is also bullshit. The pictures aren't any more or less claustrophobic than any other photographs taken during that time by the mostly male photographers we still admire so much, and I'm still trying to find that “clinical detail.” (here is a much better article about Heyman)
Of course, I was wondering why the book wasn't any more well-known or popular. I will have to assume that an older generation of American photographers will know the book. I grew up in Germany, and I was six years old when the book came out. But still, given the books seems so apropos today... Maybe the answer can in part be found in the way that obituary treated Heyman. It might be symptomatic of something.
For a while, when looking at books to possibly buy in a second-hand store, I would think “I should check this online.” I don't do that any longer. If I had checked Growing Up Female online, I would have found copies started at $0.75, which incidentally, is how much I paid for parking to browse for books.
(I made that up. I only paid $0.50. But I needed to indulge the writer in me.)
But why would I not buy the book and have it right away, and instead pay someone I don't know $0.75 plus $3.99 shipping to some day – media mail takes a while – get a package in the mail (“Oh, I forget I order that.”)? It's true, I could have saved $1.26. But I paid those extra $1.26 and thus supported a local business that I return to regularly.
There's that other thing that's killing bookshops: we are cheap. Or rather, we often decide to be cheap. We'd often rather save $1.26 to get a deal online. And I suppose that's fine. We're all on a budget. But then, being on a budget means that those places like that second-hand bookshop where I found Growing Up Female are struggling. And if they're struggling that means the less of them there are, the smaller the chances that older, under-appreciated books will somehow make it into the hands of people curious enough to browse.
The reality is that I found a ton of great books I had never heard of before in second-hand shops for prices that were more than reasonable. There are thousands of photobooks out there that you can buy for $5 or $10 that are just waiting to be rediscovered. And while the internet is great for all kinds of things, it's not that great for that, for the re-discovery of photobooks.
So if you like (or love) photobooks and if you're somewhere where there's a second-hand bookshop, go inside and browse. You'll be amazed what is out there to be (re-)discovered.
Abigail Heyman on Women, Photography, and Being a Women Photographer
Abigail Heyman, Feminist Photojournalist, Dies at 70
By PAUL VITELLOJUNE 8, 2013
Abigail Heyman, a photographer whose stark portraits of women at work, at home and at weddings gave a visual concreteness to feminist doctrine of the 1970s about the oppressiveness of traditional female roles, died on May 28 at her home in Manhattan. She was 70.
The cause was heart failure, said her son, Lazar Bloch.
Ms. Heyman was known best for her 1974 book, “Growing Up Female: A Personal Photo-Journal,” a sort of illustrated encyclopedia of women performing self-limiting roles. In claustrophobic black-and-white images of almost clinical detail, she portrayed women in curlers shopping for groceries; women as spectators, watching men do things they enjoy; a nude dancer at a strip joint flat on her back, legs apart; a woman at a kitchen table in an apparent stupor of fatigue, a wailing baby on the changing table nearby; little girls playing with dolls.
In one of the book’s most arresting images, Ms. Heyman photographed herself undergoing an abortion.
Her book, she said, was “one feminist’s point of view” of the narrow range of choices women had in their lives, which she hoped her work would help to expand. Frequently displayed in women’s bookstores — in the heyday of women’s bookstores — next to the best-selling feminist guidebook “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” Ms. Heyman’s “Growing Up Female” sold more than 35,000 copies, an unusually high number for photograph collections.
A 1978 book, “Butcher, Baker, Cabinetmaker,” was devoted to working women, and in “Dreams & Schemes: Love and Marriage in Modern Times” (1987), Ms. Heyman explored weddings — she attended 200 — with an eye for backstage drama that anticipated the granular detail, minus the bad taste, of reality television.
In photos and accompanying essays, she portrayed a bride being forced to choose between her divorced parents because one would not come if the other was invited; the parents of a groom who were glum throughout a ceremony because the bride planned to keep her own name; the stir among a groom’s tables when two former lovers of the bride showed up at the reception.
Ms. Heyman was also a photojournalist, her work appearing in Time, Life, Ms., Harpers and The New York Times Magazine. In the mid-1980s she was director of the documentary and photojournalism department at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan. She was one of the first women admitted to the prestigious photographer’s cooperative Magnum, founded in 1947 by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and others.
Joan Liftin, the photojournalism director at the photography center from 1988 to 2000, called Ms. Heyman’s work an amalgam of personal, journalistic and political insight.
“As a feminist, she was not so much about marching,” Ms. Liftin said. “She took pictures that showed what the marching was about.”
Abigail Heyman was born on Aug. 1, 1942, in Danbury, Conn., the second of two children of Annette and Lazarus Heyman. Her father was a real estate developer. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, N.Y., in 1964 and had her first photography exhibit in Manhattan in 1972. She was twice divorced. Besides her son, her mother is her only survivor.
“I have been a girl child and, in my expectations, a mother,” Ms. Heyman wrote in her first book. “I have tried to be prettier than I am. I have been treated as a sex object, and at times I have encouraged that. I have been married and have seen my husband’s work as more important than my own.”
Her work as a photographer, she said, reflected “the conflicts inherent in growing up female” and “the conflicts inherent in trying to change.”
Correction: June 11, 2013
An earlier version of this obituary referred incorrectly to Ms. Heyman’s family. She was the second of two children, not the first. (Her brother, Samuel J. Heyman, who died in 2009, was the firstborn.)
A version of this article appears in print on June 9, 2013, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Abigail Heyman, 70, Feminist Photojournalist
June 17, 2013
Abigail Heyman: A Feminist & Photographer
by Jordyn Rozensky
Being a woman influenced my ideas about what I wanted to photograph. My interest in women’s issues, in family issues, in social relationships came out of my experience of growing up as a female.—Abigail Heyman
While organizing our library of photography books, my partner asked me a simple yet loaded question, “out of your entire collection of books—what percentage are by women photographers?” My mind cycled through the women photographers who have influenced and inspired my own work … I paused before I answered, “not enough.”
Being a photographer is hard enough, and breaking down barriers of a male driven profession and world is even harder. Abigail Heyman was one photographer who did just that. Abby Heyman was a photographer with something to say, one who created work of consequence through brutally honest and personal photographs. She wove her own identity—that of a woman growing up in a culture not always meant for women—into her photographs. Her own Jewish identity, while not usually at the forefront of her work, was a part of her world. Although she veered away from being observant, the rituals and culture of the Jewish world were important to her.
A close friend of Heymans, and an amazing photographer in his own right, Nubar Alexanian spoke at Heyman’s funeral sharing that, “Abby had a reputation for being smart. But she was more than smart. Her intelligence was soundly connected to her intuition and imagination—so much so that when she started pulling on a thread in a discussion, it would inevitably lead somewhere surprising ... often astonishing. I could never tell if she actually knew where she was heading, or whether she improvised as her argument developed.”
In her 1974 book “Growing Up Female: A Personal Photo-Journal” Ms. Heyman introduced the work writing, “this book is about women, and their lives as women, from one feminist’s point of view.” Through exquisite detail the book chronicles the suffocating lack of choice in women’s lives. What sets the work apart is the steps that Heyman took beyond impartial photojournalism, placing herself, her passions, and her own beliefs onto the film. Of all of the images in “Growing Up Female” the one that sticks with me, and the photograph most written about, is the photograph of Heyman’s own abortion. Written above the photograph are the words, "nothing ever made me feel more like a sex object than going through an abortion alone." The photograph is so brave, so bold, and so real.
Of all of her work, the book that speaks the loudest to me is her 1987 “Dreams & Schemes: Love in Marriage in Modern Times.” As a wedding photographer myself, I’ve been to my share of weddings—though nowhere near the number that Heyman photographed. Heyman attended over 200 weddings to complete her book, lifting the veil of wedding rituals and getting at the heart of the feelings and culture of weddings. Heyman wasn’t just a photographer, she was also a writer and a storyteller. She had her own way of seeing and creating. “Dreams & Schemes” goes beyond effecting photographs to tell the story of the context of weddings. Nubar Alexanian spoke of “Dreams & Schemes” stating that Heyman’s book “examines the underlying emotions and widespread implications [wedding rituals] often conceal”. He went on to say, “the photographs, the writing, editing, sequencing, pacing, image size, type face, every piece of this book hits the mark. When students ask me about the process of creating a photographic book, I suggest that they study 'Dreams & Schemes'.”
When Heyman passed away at the age of 70 she left the world changed and a better place. In "Growing Up Female" she writes, "I have photographed the problems and the strengths of women. Some have suggested that I photograph the solutions. I don't know the solutions." I'd like to think that Abigail Heyman was part of the solution. She broke down barriers, being the first female invited to join the prestigious and highly competitive Magnum photography group. She created a new way of thinking about photojournalism, of injecting oneself into their work. She inspired.