Abigail Heyman (1942-2013)

Some photographers feel the camera separates them from their own feelings about people and events. To the contrary, the camera makes me closer” wrote Abigail Heyman in her 1987 Aperture book ‘Dreams & Schemes: Love and Marriage in Modern Times‘, certainly the only book of wedding photographs I own, and in which I think her pictures demonstrate the truth of her statement.

You can read her obituary, published yesterday in The New York Times, which also has  a small gallery of images, beginning with a portrait of her by Bill Jay, taken in her New York home in 1980.

When I wrote about her ten or so years ago for my ‘Directory of Notable Photographers’ (a listing no longer on line) I searched the web with little success to find anything by or about her, recording my conclusion:  ‘No useful material available on the web’, and I don’t think things have changed much, with just a few isolated images on various blogs. Information about her is also still rather sparse , and a little of what I did find and used was perhaps not absolutely accurate. It’s a shame that her work isn’t more readily available.

Her first book, ‘Growing up female; A personal photojournal’ was published in 1974 and sold many copies, becoming something of a feminist icon. Although there were a number of images I admired, I didn’t buy a copy and still consider it a less interesting work than ‘Dreams & Schemes‘. Her third book, ‘Butcher, baker, cabinetmaker : photographs of women at work‘ picturing them in occupations at least then normally thought of as male preserves seems considerably less personal than the first two. All three are available very cheaply second-hand (or, as usual if you prefer, very expensively, one of her works being offered in apparently similar condition by different sellers at around a fiver or over £99.)

The NYT obit states “She was one of the first women admitted to the prestigious photographer’s cooperative Magnum“, but she was only nine when Eve Arnold was accepted as a member and there were a number of others before Heyman become linked to them in some way. Although various sources describe her as a former member of Magnum Photos I’m not sure what her exact relationship was to the organisation as her name does not appear in the index of Russell Miller‘s Magnum book, and she is not included in the list of present and past members on Wikipedia.  Perhaps one of my readers can clarify?

She was one of the founding members of Archive Pictures, along with Mark Godfrey, Mary Ellen Mark and Charles Harbutt, who all left Magnum in 1981 as well as Joan Liftin who had been the director and editor of the Magnum Photos Library. In the mid-80s Heyman ran the Documentary and Photojournalism Department at the International Center of Photography in New York – a position later held by Liftin.

Heyman also founded Picture Project, a photography publisher which seems to have brought out two books, ‘Flesh & Blood‘, a collection of family pictures by various well-known photographers, and a second edition of her own ‘Dreams & Schemes‘, and to have been associated with the University of New Mexico Press in publishing ‘My Fellow Americans’ by Jeff Jacobsen.

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