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L.A. WOMEN / Eva Schlegel

The idea of this book evolved in 2003 during my stay in California. 180 Days Los Angeles was the working title for the book project which Johannes Schlebrügge invited me to prepare. After some initial forays I began developing a concept, methodically linking the analysis of a situation and artistic action on the basis of a pattern I was familiar with.

My main interest were the women artists of this city – their working conditions and possibilities, their approach to their work, their style, their liberties. I wanted to understand the differences, as familiar as I was with the basic principles of artistic and planning work. Differences that had to do with Los Angeles and its urban situation, but also with the specific training possibilities here and the professional self-determination combined with the often very intimate, ongoing affiliation with schools and universities.

A position at the Getty Foundation enabled me to do comparative research in addition to my photographic work. Apart from countless books on artist’s portraits I studied Brassaï’s photographic volumes (The Artists of my Life) and those by Alexander Libermann and it became clear to me how their books had often evolved from the close collaboration of photographers with Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion journals; both photographers had been trained as artists which explains their special view of their colleagues. The number of women in the books studied was vanishhing small. I was really taken by “Women in Flight”, a book about women pilots – from astronauts to bush pilots. And I worked on my own understanding of the portrait, and it became clear to me that I wanted to allow the gaze from within and I did not want to mystify either the artist or the working process. In addition to a number of theoretical books on architecture and femininity (Sexuality and Space, How Women Construct, …). I liked the book by Clare Lorenz “Women in Architecture”, since she adopted criteria I could also accept, defining them as follows: ”The focus on individuals may appear curious as virtually all architectural work is that of a team, in that more than one individual contributes to the final product; only that work in which a woman has either led a design team or been an equal partner or sole practitioner, is included. Each person’s work, “be it building, teaching or theory is highly regarded in her own country and the respect she has earned at home is the basis for inclusion here! This fits very well to the women selected for my future book and to that there is a very strong commitment to architecture as art from all of them even if the process of how to start with the idea, or the source of creativity is different for probably everyone.”

A number of meetings, in particular those with the architects,
were classical blind dates in which no one – neither I nor she – knew what to expect. It was important to me to create a comfortable situation, to blend out the “shooting” of the photographs and the problematic subject-object relation. Precisely the moment in which I worked as a photographer created a basis for collegial or friendly conversations. While doing the layout of the book I noticed that some of the artists had changed studios – for instance, Kaucyila Brooke’s studio which was originally located in the women’s house founded by Judy Chicago was now bought up by a developer and transformed into lofts, or April Greiman, who had one of the first studios in the downtown brewery and worked together with the architect Michael Rotondi to transform this brewery so as to make it accessible to artists and other arts-related businesses. It is a huge industrial area in which in the meantime one also finds Annie Chu’s studio (Annie Chu also developed a structure in the Internet called women house, which offers a platform to women artists, writers, etc.).

I received my first contacts from Thom and Blythe Mayne to whom I would like to express my sincere appreciation. Here I would also like to thank Sharon Johnston and Mark Leel for their support. I know that I could not cover the entire spectrum within six months, that important positions and persons were bound to be left out – Diana Thater, Judy Chicago, Renée Green, Brenda Levin and many others. Towards the end of my stay I was invited to show some first photographs at the Schindler house in Los Angeles and to explain the project. It was great that all of the artists and architects came and had a chance to get to know each other if they didn’t already know each other. It was wonderful party.

The book is also a contribution to my teaching activity at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where I am confronted with a large number of female students. There are still only few instances in which women succeed in asserting themselves in the art market. This book gives information, shows examples, presents paths and perhaps even role models.