Since the opening of ‘Artfully Dressed: Women in the Art World’ – a new exhibition of Carla van de Puttelaar’s work at Weiss Gallery – the photographer has found visitors’ responses to be “overwhelming – one word”.
The exhibition features portraits of influential women from the international art world. Photographed with natural light and bold, dark backgrounds, the sitters glow within their frames.
The exhibition highlights the variety, versatility and huge professional potential of women. Carla tells Bloop that she wanted “to show them as very versatile and very rich persons, both mentally as well as physically”.
Some of the featured women are highly renowned for their contribution to the art industry, such as Maria Balshaw, director of the Tate art museums and galleries.
Other sitters may be less widely known, but all show immense talent and deserve the recognition Carla gives them through the public portraits. The series covers women with a range of roles, such as gallery owners, curators, artists and art historians.
When visitors see the exhibition, Carla finds that “they see the diversity: the prominent women; the promising women”.
She considers it important for women to embrace their unique visual identities and celebrate their individuality.
“Women, I think, have much more the urgency to please others and to fit in and to be beautiful in a certain way,” she says. “We’ve grown out intellectually, why not visually as well?”
The costumes and textiles used in the portraits help to express the individuality of the sitters. The featured women often wear outfits that have personal significance to them.
In her portrait, V&A curator Marta Weiss can be seen holding her daughter while wearing a dress that belonged to her mother. The dress is somewhat symbolic of mother-daughter relationships, highlighting Marta to be both a daughter and a mother – as well as, of course, a successful curator.
“It’s so beautiful that it happens,” Carla says, referring to Marta’s portrait. “This family tradition from mother to daughter, to granddaughter then and her daughter.”
The exhibition is particularly timely as the issue of gender inequality in the workplace receives increasing media attention. Prior to starting work on this project, Carla had felt “a little bit frustrated that so many women were nearly invisible”.
From working as both an artist and an art historian, Carla has first-hand experience of finding success in an industry that has been historically dominated by men.
As the exhibition highlights, there are a vast number of women from a diverse range of backgrounds contributing to the industry.
The portraits express Carla’s admiration for her female sitters: “I really want to show them – ‘wow, I admire you. I’ll show you in this way to the world with this admiration and with this force and empowerment.’”
Carla’s PhD focused on 17th Century Scottish portraiture; the ‘Artfully Dressed’ images are reminiscent of historical portraits, but with a contemporary and feminine twist.
Moving away from the male gaze that has filtered through the history of art, she says, “I think I have the female gaze.
“I think there is such a thing,” she says. “I think I have that, and I show that. I do it differently.”
Through the series, Carla draws on her female connections with the sitters to empower them and enhance their strength and self-confidence.
“Sometimes there is also vulnerability and fragility,” she says. “Because we are all human. And for me, it’s also interesting to show them as human beings and not as barbie dolls.”
Carla feels as though the project is now a “vocation”. So far, she has photographed around 150 women for the series – a selection of which are featured in the exhibition – and she hopes to photograph more.
“I feel like it’s my thing; I really have to do this. I will enlarge it. I will photograph more people in the art world.
“It’s like a waterfall,” she says. “It’s getting bigger and bigger – and then it’s nearly unstoppable.”
‘Artfully Dressed: Women in the Art World’ will be shown at Weiss Gallery until 31st May. For more information, visit the gallery’s website here.