The Blatant Image: Making A Magazine
The Blatant Image: A Magazine of Feminist Photography, was published annually from 1981-1983 by half a dozen women who would gather for a month to six weeks in southern Oregon.
It's roots lay in two different directions: the Feminist Photography Ovulars held each summer from 1979-1982 and WomanSpirit magazine, one of whose editors, Jean Mountaingrove, generated the idea, and both of whom worked on The Blatant Image.
WomanSpirit began publication in 1974 with the thesis that our spirituality is directly accessible to each of us, and that its rituals come from our lives and our relationship to the land and other growing things. WomanSpirit also published articles and photographs reclaiming or re-imaging a matriarchal or wiccan past. It was published by Ruth and Jean Mountaingrove, a mated pair with grown children.
The Feminist Photography Ovulars grew out of Ruth Mountaingrove's need for stimulation and support as a photographer working alone in a rural area. Ruth chose the term "ovular" to underline the difference between these workshops and "seminars," the definition of which literally means "spreading the seed or semen".
In her mid-fifties when the Ovulars began, Ruth brought a facility with large format cameras, publishing expertise and a speculative mind to the workshops and later to The Blatant Image. Jean Mountaingrove, in her early fifties, brought organizing abilities and a firmly grounded feminist theory, theory brought home and made real in her life.
The fourth member of the original Ovular facilitator team was Carol Newhouse, a photographer with a strong interest in meditation who had co-produced Country Lesbians, a book about living collectively in Southern Oregon.
I had been exhibiting in San Francisco for several years, and my images had been published extensively in the lesbian and feminist press. Carol and I were both in our mid-thirties.
Dreams into Realities
The Ovulars were the kind of place where women could come together and experience community, where questions could be freely asked, information shared and ideas generated. They were structured for support and against competition, and took place in an isolated woodland setting with low tech facilities. Darkroom electricity was supplied by a marine battery. Slide shows were powered by a gas fueled generator. Participants camped, used an outhouse, bathed using stream water heated by the sun and shared cooking responsibilities. In this supportive atmosphere we stretched to include new areas of women's experience and thoughtfully, sometimes self-consciously, broke taboos.
The idea of doing a magazine was discussed at the first Ovular. It got off the ground at the second, in 1980, when the title was chosen and a group of 24 women committed themselves to gathering material and selling subscriptions.
A core work group formed in the fall of 1980 to do basic planning for the actual production which would take place in the spring of '81. That group was made up of myself, the Mountaingroves and Caroline Overman, a WomanSpirit editor with whom I was partnered.
At the time of the actual production two other women joined us: Lynn Davis, a photographer and archivist from Hawaii, organized our filing system and helped with preliminary selections, and photographer Jan Phillips came to visit and stayed for the duration.
What We Wanted for the Magazine
We asked "How has the women's movement changed the way we see? What kinds of photos are being produced and published now that haven't been seen before? What are the realities of our shapes and our lives? What are the differences between the ways men have pictured women and the ways we see ourselves?"
We wanted it to be accessible to all women, strongly feminist in structure, radical both in the sense of confronting the viewer with seldom seen or hard to look at images and in going for the roots of women's vision. We wanted it to include both the work of women of earlier times and of our own, to include ideas as well as pictures.
When we gathered in Southern Oregon in March of 1981, we didn't have strongly preconceived ideas about what the photographs that had been arriving for six month would look like, but knew that these images would form the visual heart of the publication. It was very exciting to see the submissions spread out in large groups and to begin to see connections between them, to see common concerns made visible.
The completed magazine was 96 pages, perfect bound with 124 black and white photographs. Articles ranged the 'how to' variety with titles like "Using Color Negative Film" and "Documenting Rituals" to pieces on "Integrating Life and Work", "Making Ourselves Real" and "Living Feminist Photography." Honey Lee Cottrell contributed a lead piece on self-portraiture. There were two survey articles on women in the history of photography, one of which was by Amy Doherty, five on individual early women photographers, two on filmmaking, pieces on photography and the law, model releases, book reviews, and a myriad of personal statements and portfolios. For me, the most important images we published were Deborah Hoffman's photos of differently abled women at a protest rally and at a country retreat.
The money for the printing of the first issue of The Blatant Image was raised through prepaid subscriptions before we went to press. All the labor was volunteer.
Ruth Mountaingrove agreed to do distribution for which she would be paid.
None of it was easy. We struggled with each other, with our own personalities, with differing definitions of feminism and different styles of working. In the end, I think we were all proud of the results.
The Blatant Image II
The following year we produced a second issue with a somewhat different staff which included three of the original editors: Ruth Mountaingrove, Caroline Overman and myself and five other women. The magazine changed as different people formed the editorial core. Some highlights of the issue include Claudia Liberatore's photo essay on finding an identity through photographing her daily life and environment, and a series on scars including three self-portraits with scars, pieces on Mattie Gunterman and Lottie Jacobi, on photographing women with cancer, an essay on how off our backs, a feminist news monthly, has approached photo use and on the darkroom as a spiritual path, creative visualization, disability and the fear of senility, using The Blatant Image in the classroom, photographing in Nicaragua, photographing battered women and more.
The Blatant Image III
The third and final issue had two of the original editors: the Mountaingroves and five new women working on it. In the portfolios, themes which run through women's imagery were highlighted: cycles, women together, portraits, commentary, working, and others. There was a photo essay of a daughter dying from a brain tumor and Barbara Hammer's menstrual ritual which upset the printers so much that production was delayed and working relationships strained. There were articles on Frances Benjamin Johnson and creating women's networks by C. Jane Gover and on women coming to terms with their bodies, on British Feminist Photography and much much more.
After the third issue The Blatant Image ceased publication, perhaps indefinitely. Nothing even vaguely like it has been produced since. I still feel the need for one or more magazines in which to share information, who we are and have been, what we're thinking, feeling, seeing and imagining, and where we might go from here.
A slightly different version of this paper was delivered at the Women In Photography: Expanding Connections conference, June 16-18, 1989, Bryn Mawr College.