Whitney Otto covers the 20th century, as well as a number of countries: the U.S., Germany, Mexico. Although she divides the book into eight sections, she turns it into a novel because many of the women met each other in the course of their work. Cymbeline Kelley, for instance left Seattle when her hired help burned her photography studio; working in Dresden, l909- l9l0, she met other women photographers. Clara Argento’s interest in photography as well as socialism took her to Mexico, to photograph the revolutionaries. There is considerable danger in the book; Lenny Van Pelt is in London during the Blitz. There are tough scenes in Germany when a number of the photographers, who were Jewish, faced Nazi threats and lost their homes and livelihoods.
It is an ambitious look at women’s conflicts as they face up to being Career Women, as opposed to traditional wives and mothers. Whitney Otto, who lives in Portland,Oregon with her husband and son, tackled this subject in an earlier bestseller, “How to make an American Quilt” (which was made into a feature film).
Review by Anne McDougall