Role Models

Feminine Identity in Contemporary American Photography

Susan Fisher Sterling, Kathryn A. Wat

    ISBN: 978 1 85759 538 3

    Size: 304 x 228 mm / 9.25 x 12.5 in.

    Binding: hardcover

    Pages: 136

    In association with:

    Date published: October, 2008

    UK £27.95 /US $49.95


  • Photographers featured include Eleanor Antin, Tina Barney, Anna Gaskell, Nan Goldin, Katy Grannan, Justine Kurland, Nikki S. Lee, Sharon Lockhart, Sally Mann, Mary Ellen Mark, Catherine Opie, Barbara Probst, Collier Schorr, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Angela Strassheim, Carrie Mae Weems
  • Full-colour photography and essays by leaders in the field


In today’s image-conscious world, photography is one of the most powerful mediators of our sense of self. Exploring the ways in which female identity is constructed and mediated through the art of photography is the central theme of this fascinating, fully illustrated book, published to accompany a major exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. This book features the work of two generations of artists whose portraiture, self-portraiture and narrative photographs have indelibly inflected our understanding of gender and identity over the past thirty years. More specifically, it focuses on how role models and role-playing have been central to the art, meaning and social function of contemporary photography. Role Models begins with the early 1980s, a time when many American women artists and photographers such as Eleanor Antin and Cindy Sherman realised that they could be both the creator and the subject of their work, while others such as Nan Goldin, Sally Mann and Mary Ellen Mark sought to document the varied roles that women and girls try on in their struggle to find an identity that fits. Role Models also considers how, by the late 1990s, a generation of photographers including Anna Gaskell, Catherine Opie and Nikki S. Lee had become exemplars for a new cadre of younger women artists by collapsing old boundaries between postmodern and documentary photography, establishing new post-feminist sensibilities and evolving more fluid concepts of female identity.

Author information

Susan Fisher Sterling is Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC. Kathryn A. Wat is Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museum.