The Only Woman: a new book is celebrated the empowering visual history of the ‘only woman’ in the room
Books

The Only Woman: a new book is celebrated the empowering visual history of the ‘only woman’ in the room

Get ready for a fascinating glimpse into history’s unsung glass ceiling breakers in Immy Humes’ The Only Woman.

We all know the phrase: “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” used throughout modern history to express the importance of representation, particularly for minority groups. And while it has arguably become a bit of a token, the core of the message still stands.

Author Immy Humes’ new book, The Only Woman, encapsulates the sentiment perfectly. In the pictorial investigation, Humes explores the as-yet undocumented, but very real, phenomenon of the ‘only woman’: portraits of otherwise all-male groups that include exactly one woman.

Emmeline Pankhurst, Suffragette, London, England, UK, 1914
Emmeline Pankhurst, Suffragette, London, England, UK, 1914

Doctors, police officers, artists, writers, athletes and engineers from across America, Japan, Mexico and Iceland from 1920 to 2020. Across time, place and profession: there is only one woman present.

Graciela, Singer, New York, New York, USA, 1947.
Graciela, Singer, New York, New York, USA, 1947.

Through 100 compelling group portraits, Humes highlights not only the incredible achievements of these women, who include activist Emmeline Pankhurst, politician Shirley Chisholm and organiser Ieshia Evans, but the barriers of sexism, racism and adversity they faced in order to achieve their success.

Shirley Chisholm, Politician, New York, New York, USA, 1972
Shirley Chisholm, Politician, New York, New York, USA, 1972

Sharing their inspirational stories, Humes recounts the significance of each photograph. 

Explaining the life and work of trailblazing publisher Katherine Graham, she writes: “Graham was a First as well as an Only. In the instance of this photograph, she was the first woman elected to the Associated Press’s board of directors. She sits here as the sole spot of color in light blue with the other directors, all visibly pale and male. Three years earlier, she had already become the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the Washington Post.”

Katharine Graham, Publisher, New York, New York, 1975
Katharine Graham, Publisher, New York, New York, 1975

Of the artist Hedda Stern, she explains: “Sterne recollected, “When we arrived, each chair had a name on it. But there was no chair for me. It wasn’t deliberate, though, and they found something for me to stand on, in the back.” However, the men “were very furious that I was in it because they all were sufficiently macho to think that the presence of a woman took away from the seriousness of it all.”

“The guys would say, ‘Oh, you are one of us!’ or ‘You paint just like a man.’ That was supposed to make me die with being pleased.”

Hedda Sterne, Artist, New York, New York, USA, 1951
Hedda Sterne, Artist, New York, New York, USA, 1951

The Only Woman by Immy Humes is published by Phaidon on 3 August, £19.95

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Images: Phaidon/individual photographers