Calling the Shots: Women’s Photographic Engagement with War in Hemispheric America, 1910–1990: Doctoral thesis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


War photography is conventionally understood to be a hypermasculine practice, undertaken by risk-taking photojournalists in the combat zone. Despite growing scholarship on the fields of photography, war, and gender, there remains little that considers war’s photographic dimension as a charged arena for gender relations. This intellectual limitation impedes understanding of women’s agency and substantial participation at the nexus of war and photography.

Rather than single out exceptional female exponents, or offer an essentialist view of ‘feminine’ traits, I show how the discursive construction of war photography is hostile to the participation of women, rendering their activities invalid. A twofold theoretical and methodological innovation redefines the conception of war photography to make it adequate to women's activities, and offers the model of ‘engagement’ to account for a wider range of interactions with photography beyond professional photojournalism.

A series of case studies, drawn from hemispheric America between 1910 and 1990, reveals the ways in which women have negotiated gendered constraints to photographically engage with war. The conflicts considered (the Mexican Revolution, US participation in the Second World War, the Sandinista Revolution and Contra War, and Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’) enable analysis of distinct modes of warfare undertaken in diverse localities and historical moments. The artefacts examined – photographic postcards of firing squad victims, placards used in protests, propaganda pamphlets and fashion magazines amongst others – demonstrate the importance of conceiving photography a material and social practice. While women rarely operate in the 'Capa mode' of hypermasculine war photographer, they presistently find photographic means to forcefully assert their status as central and active participants in war and politics, rather than bystanders of history.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Durham University
  • Noble, Andrea , Supervisor, External person
  • Long, J J , Supervisor, External person
  • Welch, Edward , Supervisor, External person
Award date7 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2016


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