Beyond Bystanders: Women Photographers in the Mexican Revolution (1910—1920)

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


War photography is conventionally assumed to be a masculine endeavour, undertaken by risk-taking photojournalists in the combat zone. With a few notable exceptions, women have historically been prevented from participating in this mode, due to a range of gendered constraints, and their images have largely been disregarded. A broader conception of war photography is therefore necessary to acknowledge the many diverse alternative ways in which women have participated in the expanded field of photography and conflict.

The Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) offers a rich context for consideration of this issue. Though generally overlooked by Western histories of war photography, the Revolution was the first major conflict to be photographed on a mass scale, not only by professionals but also by amateurs and unskilled snap-shooters. Despite evidence of women’s participation, there has been little critical reflection on the ways in which gender shaped their work. This impedes a nuanced understanding of women’s roles and experiences in one of Latin America’s defining conflicts.

My paper addresses this limitation by examining parallel instances of women’s photographic practice. Drawing on recently published studies and my own primary research, I discuss the case of Sara Castrejón, a Mexican owner-operator of a small portrait studio in South-western Mexico, who became a semi-official photographer to the occupying troops; and Kate Leach, a little-known US hobbyist photographer and album-compiler, resident in North-western Mexico during the Revolution. Leach compiled albums in which images of the 1911 Battle of Ciudad Juarez are juxtaposed with snapshots of her toddler son; while Castrejón documented army personnel, encampments, military funerals, and even executions by firing squad.

Though both women practised in photographic genres traditionally configured feminine and apolitical – the family album and the studio portrait respectively – their photographic activities were radically inflected by war. I show how the two women negotiated gendered constraints of the epoch, actively seeking photographic means through which to engage with, comment upon, and record their experiences of the Revolution. Rather than be positioned as bystanders to war, Castrejón and Leach produced images and artefacts that make the viewpoints of women central, emblematic of the ways in which women participated in and chronicled the Mexican Revolution more widely.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2023
EventFast Forward: Women, Photography, Conflict - Nikola Tesla Museum, Zagreb, Croatia
Duration: 16 Nov 202317 Nov 2023
Conference number: 4


ConferenceFast Forward
Internet address

Bibliographical note

The filmed presentation will be available on the Fast Forward website.


Dive into the research topics of 'Beyond Bystanders: Women Photographers in the Mexican Revolution (1910—1920)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this