Neglected 20th-Century Women Photographers Begin to Get Their Due

The exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum aims to move beyond Euro-American historical narrative.

A famous, bikini-clad model reclines on the crystalline shore of a beach in Jamaica. The corpse of an SS prison guard floats down a river. Three boys play, chasing each other with sticks in an empty lot in the Bronx. What do these images have in common?

Ilse Bing : The Queen of the Leica

“I didn’t choose photography; it chose me,” said Ilse Bing (American, born Germany, 1899–1998). Bing was just a snapshooter until forced to hone her photographic skills to produce illustrations for her doctoral dissertation at the University of Frankfurt on an 18th-century architect. Then in 1929, on a university field trip, the 30-year-old art historian saw for the first time a painting by Vincent van Gogh. She instantly decided to become an artist—but not a painter. Photography “was the trend of the time,” she recalled later. And the newest trend in photography was the Leica, a small, lightweight German camera.