Presenting a diverse geographic and ethnic selection, the What They Saw anthology interprets historical photobooks by women in the broadest sense possible: classic bound books, portfolios, personal albums, unpublished books, zines and scrapbooks. Some of the books documented are well-known publications such as Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843-1853), Germaine Krull’s Métal (1928) and Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph (1972), while other books may be relatively unknown, such as Alice Seeley Harris’ The Camera and the Congo Crime (c. 1906), Varvara Stepanova’s Groznyi smekh. Okna Rosta(1932), Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson’s African Journey (1945), Fina Gómez Revenga’s Fotografías de Fina Gómez Revenga (1954), Eiko Yamazawa’s Far and Near (1962) and Gretta Alegre Sarfaty’s Auto-photos: Série transformações—1976: Diário de Uma Mulher—1977 (1978). Also addressed in the publication are the glaring gaps and omissions in current photobook history—in particular, the lack of access, support and funding for photobooks by non-Western women and women of color.
Structured as a traveling reading room, publication and series of public events, the project will launch in November 2021 with the release of this publication. In May 2022, in partnership with the Wallach Division of the New York Public Library (NYPL), the What They Saw reading room will be on view at the NYPL’s main building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in New York City. The reading room will then tour internationally to allow the over 250 books in the project to be shared with a global community.