FotoATX: "Austin Women by Austin Women" at the Elisabet Ney Museum

The five women showing photographs capture the beauty, passion, grace, and resilience of being a woman in Austin today

From the Portraits of a Changing Economy series by Amalia Díaz

In the corner gallery of the Elisabet Ney Museum, once home to the eponymous Ney, herself an Austin woman and artist, the first FotoATX presents a show featuring Austin women as both subject and artist. "Austin Women by Austin Women" explores what being a woman in modern Austin looks like. Photographers Ave Bonar, Amalia Díaz, Christa Blackwood, Hannah Neal, and Erica Wilkins display technical proficiency across the spectrum of the medium, offering everything from digital portraiture to ethereal bromoil prints to photogravures.

Neal and Blackwood inject a sense of mythology into the Austin woman. Neal uses early 20th century Pictorialistic techniques and processes to capture local artists as glamorous characters in a hazy atmosphere. The bromoil prints beguile viewers with soft focus and dramatic lighting, allowing the atmosphere and textures of her images to develop in turn an airy and then a sumptuous presence. Pulling from her Left Bank series, Neal pays tribute to the history of photography and artistry writ large in her stylized rendering of poised artists and dancers.

For her part, Blackwood presents the Austin woman dissected. Her two sets of images, one composed of four tintypes in sharp-contrast black and white and another of three lovely encaustic photogravures in a softer pink gradient, are distinct but stylistically characteristic of Blackwood and her exploration of gender, here anatomized in close crops of her subjects.

Wilkins contributes photographs from her series And Feminist, which bills itself as "a neutral, nonconfrontational collection of environmental portraits that humanizes the label." The project endeavors to offer a broader visual presentation of what feminists may look like and simultaneously identify as. While it is personally more difficult to conceptualize a project being at once neutral, nonconfrontational, and feminist than a person being at once a "Human, Texan, and Feminist" or "Shop Owner, Mother, and Feminist," per the titles, anyone struggling with the latter set is appeased by the warm, smiling portraits.

Circling the show counterclockwise leaves the best for last. Díaz's four digital photographs peek into the rituals of women around Austin and how the changing landscape of the city has affected these rituals. The images themselves are thoughtfully composed and beautifully rendered in black and white: a stone-faced woman sitting arms crossed in the beauty chair; the back of a woman, her hands up adjusting a towel around her hair; a barista gazing out of the frame; a mother in profile, nestling her baby close to her. As the images suggest and the program confirms, the wistful nature of the images reflects somber realities. The stories are familiar to some degree – the disappearance of a black-owned beauty parlor, the barista who left Austin for California, the family who lost their home in the Cactus Rose Mobile Home Park to condo development – but the resilient vulnerability Díaz captures in the women's faces and posture is extraordinary.

If the show feels at times a bit disjointed or even slightly embarrassing, well, that is part of being a woman in Austin, Texas. But so, too, is the beauty, passion, creativity, grace, and resilience on display.

"Austin Women by Austin Women"

Elisabet Ney Museum, 304 E. 44th
Through Feb. 18

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Austin photography
Photographer Sandy Carson Shoots Up the Weird, Weird West
Photographer Sandy Carson Shoots Up the Weird, Weird West
Austin-based Scotsman's new book I've Always Been a Cowboy in My Heart is rooted in place

Robert Faires, Sept. 27, 2019

"Shoot Like a Grrrl" Takes You on a Club Crawl Through Lost Austin
Photographer Martha Grenon's exhibit at SouthPop covers the Austin music scene in the Eighties and Nineties

Robert Faires, Aug. 30, 2019

More Arts Reviews
Review: Zach Theatre’s <i>A Christmas Carol</i>
Review: Zach Theatre’s A Christmas Carol
Boisterous but shallow jukebox musical of Dickens’ classic misses opportunities

Jasmine Lane, Nov. 24, 2023

<i>Unheard Witness</i>
Unheard Witness
The untold story of Charles Whitman’s wife is one of domestic violence red flags

Katherine McNevins, Nov. 17, 2023

More by Melany Jean
Melany Jean’s Top 10 Fine Art Moments of 2018
Melany Jean’s Top 10 Fine Art Moments of 2018
Unforgettably textured sculptures, unsettling exhibitions, and unusual spaces made for a memorable year in art

Dec. 28, 2018

"Annie Miller: I see london, I see france" at MoHA
This show in the Cage Match Project series casts the viewer as peeping Tom, looking through holes in a boarded-up trailer to view art

Nov. 30, 2018


Austin photography, FotoATX, Elisabet Ney Museum, Ave Bonar, Christa Blackwood, Amalia Díaz, Hannah Neal, Erica Wilkins

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle