International Women’s Day is a reminder to stop and consider the roles women occupy in our lives, to celebrate the advances and mark afresh the needs for continued change. As a woman and Tuts+ Photo & Video instructor, I want to stop and consider the role women occupy in photography. How have women made a life in photography, and how are they continuing to make it happen in photography?
Women have been an active part of photography since its inception. While not credited with the invention of photography, women have played significant roles working alongside the pioneers, often printing for their husbands, and taking photographs themselves. Joseph Niépce, the inventor of photography, talked through his experiments in letters to his sister-in-law. Constance Talbot (1811-1880), the wife of photography pioneer Henry Fox Talbot, and Anna Atkins (1799-1871), an English botanist and friend of the Talbots, were the first female photographers. They were taking photographs alongside Talbot and his peers as they developed and advanced the earliest photographic methods.
Queen Victoria was a champion of the photographic arts. In addition to granting her patronage to what became The Royal Photographic Society, Queen Victoria started the practice of putting visiting cards in albums. As the practice caught on among aristocratic women, photograph albums became a show of status, spreading the demand for and appreciation of photographic culture. By the 1880s, Kodak had recognized the increasing participation of women in photography and launched a marketing campaign with the Kodak Girl. About the same time, women photographers and journalists began actively advancing photography as a suitable profession for women. In 1897, the Ladies’ Home Journal published an article “What a Woman Can Do with a Camera.”
British and American censuses show that by 1900, there were more than 7000 professional women photographers. Women made up almost 20 percent of the profession at a time when it was unusual for women to even have a profession. In fact, photography studios increased their business by offering “lady operators” to photograph women and families. Because there was the potential for physical contact when posing subjects, studios could attract more women and families for sittings if the photographs would be taken by a woman.
Women are shaping photography to suit their needs rather than trying to shoehorn themselves into a restrictive profession.
Photography as art, rather than just science, evolved partly as a result of gentlewomen pursuing photography as an artistic medium. Unconstrained by a need to earn an income, women such as Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) and Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) could experiment and push photography into new realms both in the style of photographs taken and the nature of photographed subjects. Indeed, even the idea of image compositing was alive and thriving in the middle 1800s with women combining their drawing and cutting skills with photography to create photo collages.
But if women were so active in the early days of photography, what happened to tip photography into a decidedly male dominated profession?
It didn’t take long before photography became a primary means of recording conflict and current events. And as the science of photography advanced, equipment became lighter and processing became simpler, making it easier for photographers to be mobile. Photographers could be in the midst of events at home and on the battlefields. But conflicts of war, economy, and politics were still not places for women.
Some women fought tradition and were among the pioneer photojournalists. Gerda Taro (1910-1937), for example, worked alongside Robert Capa, photographing the Spanish Civil War. Taro was known for her intimate style of war photography, capturing the emotional context of situations. Her photographs revealed the personal and physical stress soldiers experienced. She was killed in action, photographing the front lines, in Spain in 1937.
Christina Broom (1862-1939) was another pioneering woman photojournalist. Broom was an adaptable press photographer, covering events in city and on battlefield, ranging from suffragette marches, coronations and funerals, to World War I. Like Taro, Broom was known for capturing the personalities in events. She has been especially noted for her candid and evocative photographs of World War I soldiers preparing to enter battle.
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) is well-known for her photographs of migrants during the Great Depression. Lange exposed a number of social problems over her career, but it was her emotive photographs taken in the 1930s that helped to change the public perception of poverty in the United States.
Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) was the first woman photojournalist widely known for her conflict photography. Much of Gerda Taro’s work was overshadowed by public favour for the man in the partnership. Bourke-White, however, worked alone, and with advances in women’s rights, even if few, to propel her. Bourke-White was allowed to travel with and photograph American troops during World War II. Later, she continued her conflict coverage by photographing the Korean war and India’s civil rights struggles under Ghandi.
These women made important contributions to the public’s perception of current events. They were exceptions in a field dominated by men.
Photojournalism is still a field dominated by men, but the numbers are changing. As more women become conflict photographers, our exposure to conflict stories broadens. Lynsey Addario (1973- ) and her female peers–Kate Brooks, Stacy Pearsall, Alixandra Fazzina, Amira Al-Sharif, and Rebecca Collard, just to name a few– cover conflict around the world, keeping pace with their male colleagues and often gaining access to stories unavailable to men. Women photojournalists have revealed the domestic struggles war inflicts on residents in the Middle East, exposed the capture and rape of women in Darfur and Congo, profiled the plight of HIV-positive women in Somalia, revealed the tragedy of child Afghan refugees fleeing the country for safety, laid bare the brutality of domestic violence in North America, and so much more.
The percentage of women photojournalists remains woefully and understandably low; about 20 percent of all photojournalists are women. Photojournalism, especially conflict photography, is a tough, physically and emotionally demanding job. But the women who are photographing current events are bringing us stories that we would not–and in many cases, could not–see but for the fact that the photographers are women.
Photography is Women’s Work
If you look at the numbers of women in photography without considering the context, the statistics are depressing. In 1983, about 20% of photographers were women. Today, about 20% of photojournalists are women and the gender balance across photographic professions in general is pretty well even. However, a 2012 report from the American Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that the 50/50 split does not extend to pay. The National Endowment for the Arts estimates that the median income for women photographers in the United States is about half of that for men.
The picture looks a little different, though, if you begin to look at the stories around the statistics. Women are active in photography, are passionate about their activities, and, it seems, are enjoying the freedoms that accompany freelance photography. Women are shaping photography to suit their needs rather than trying to shoehorn themselves into a restrictive profession.
Clickin Moms is an online community of women photographers. Started in 2008 as an informal social opportunity for a small group of friends to talk photography, Clickin Moms has since become a community of over 16,000 “professional photographers, aspiring professionals, and women who are simply passionate about capturing the lives of their children.” Don’t be misled, though, into thinking this might be a coffee klatch. These women are committed to artistic growth and technical knowledge, but choose to pursue them as part of an online network of like-minded women.
“We are shifting expectations about what is required to be a photographer and showing that your value as a photographer is not about your status as a professional.”
Sarah Wilkerson, CEO, acknowledges that there are many places to learn and discuss photography, but women photographers typically find those forums to be male dominated, competitive, and threatening. The process is linear: gear first, then mastering the gear, going into business, and, finally, increasing prices. Typically, emphasis is placed on restricting the pool of those at the finish line. In Sarah’s experience, women photographers are looking for communities of photographers who support each other in doing it their own way. For some women photographers, this means going professional; for others, it means being able to beautifully photograph family events. For almost all women photographers, it means some combination of options, varied as circumstances and needs change.
When reading the online discussions, the common thread of flexibility quickly becomes evident: photography offers women an opportunity to pursue a profession they love while working from home and being near their children. While that is not the goal of every woman photographer, certainly photography offers that option to women seeking a balance between personal and professional lives. And thousands are pursuing it, judging by the success of Clickin Moms. No longer just an online forum, Clickin Moms offers seminars, workshops, and peer mentoring; a program targeted to establishing standards for photo professionals, a bimonthly print magazine, an annual photography conference for women, and an online retail store.
“The whole idea of dismissing women photographers because they’re ‘moms with cameras’ is offensive,” Sarah said. “We are not about great equipment and going into business; we foster a high skill level and permission to enjoy it.” As technology and access to the photography market has transformed over the last few decades, the opportunity for women to take on and shape the industry has grown. As Sarah says, “We are raising the bar and informing the public about what they should be paying for. We are shifting expectations about what is required to be a photographer and showing that your value as a photographer is not about your status as a professional.”
The retail sector is also showing signs of shifting expectations, responding to the increasing number of women in photography. Camera bags that once were limited to black, boxy, over-the-shoulder models–completely unsuited to the way women carry their equipment–are now available in colours and models specifically designed with a woman in mind. Bags are attractive, comfortable to carry, and adaptable to women’s evolving roles.
Camera straps are also now available in designs that are clearly made for women. Made from silk scarves, leather-backed embroidery, and decorated fabrics, women’s camera straps are both comfortable and beautiful. And it’s not just custom options made in fancy fabrics and brightly coloured leathers. BlackRapid, the manufacturer of the well-known fast access strap, redesigned their strap into a model specifically made for women.
Tripods have been getting lighter for some time, but not that long ago, manufacturers began releasing tripods accented with attractive colours. It might just be a general interest in improving the look of products, but I’m inclined to
think that the increasing number of women purchasing photography equipment is
influencing manufacturing design overall. Male photographers are taking note of this evolution with envy, prompting those manufacturing bags and straps for women to add attractive and comfortable designs for men to their retail lines.
The shift toward embracing women photographers is, unfortunately, not as evident in medium to small photography stores. Most retail staff in photography stores–all retail staff in many instances–are men. In my failed efforts to interview a retail buyer or manager for this article, I encountered a mix of disinterest and divisiveness. Tone-deaf responses, such as “Well, in my years in photography, I’ve not seen anything change. Equipment is equipment. It’s universal.” typified the perspective of the salesmen I talked to.
Talking to my peers, a number of women photographers quickly shared with me anecdotes of being passed over as customers in photography. Education and influence will eventually change this experience. Key companies are beginning to recognize the increasing number, and seriousness, of women in photography. For example, Canon is the exclusive sponsor of Clickin Moms’ blog. The trend is clear.
If more women are purchasing photography equipment and if women photographers are successfully shaping the profession to suit their needs, where are they working?
Women photographers may not be well represented among photojournalists or high-end commercial photography, but they have cornered the market in maternity and newborn photography, a relatively new field that exists largely because of women photographers. Men have been painting pregnant women for centuries, but the paintings were religious (the pregnant Virgin), meant for gallery art (Vermeer’s “Woman Holding a Balance” or Picasso’s “Pregnant Woman”), or were painted as a testament to a family’s wealth and fertility (Jan van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Portrait”). But when Annie Leibovitz’s (1949- ) photograph of nude and pregnant Demi Moore appeared in 1991 on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine, a new genre of photography was born. Pregnant women now have themselves photographed for themselves, and who better to photograph them than another woman?
Other photoraphies in this history
Julia Margaret Cameron, by Henry Herschel Hay Cameron, 1870 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Frances Benjamin Johnston, by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1896 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Gerda Taro, by Anonymous (icp.org), 1937 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Christina Broom, by Winifred Broom, taken prior to the funeral of King Edward VII, London, 1910, via Museum of London
Dorothea Lange, by Rondal Partridge Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information / Office of Emergency Management / Resettlement Administration, 1936 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Margaret Bourke-White, by Margaret Bourke-White, 1946 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Tansbar. Yva (Else Simon), circa 1930.
Did the Associated Press, the venerable American agency that is one of the world’s biggest news providers, collaborate with the Nazis during World War II? A report and new counter-report on this subject offer a few striking lessons—not just for students of history but for anyone concerned with the way news coverage shapes our perception right now.
A paper last year by the German historian Harriet Scharnberg titled “The A and P of Propaganda” and published in Studies in Contemporary History makes the case that beginning in the mid-1930s, the AP’s photo office in Germany made compromise after compromise to keep reporting under Nazi rule, obeying successive orders from the Hitler regime until it ended up as a Nazi information arm in all but name. Remaining in Berlin after its competitors departed in 1935 allowed the AP to serve as a “key channel” for German propaganda, she wrote, an arrangement the New York-based agency was eager to preserve—even if it meant removing all of its Jewish photographers in keeping with Nazi race laws, for example, and even if it meant issuing a statement to the official SS magazine swearing that the photo bureau was pure Aryan.
In the Nazi years, according to Scharnberg, the AP was selling German images in the United States and selling images from the United States in Germany, allowing photographs of American Jews and others to be used in some of the vilest racial propaganda produced by the Nazi state. The AP was, for example, the “leading supplier” of images for a propaganda book called The Jews in the USA, and in third place among suppliers of photos for the book The Subhuman.
Eventually, Scharnberg claimed, the line between the AP’s German photo operation and the Nazi regime effectively ceased to exist—even as the Nazis pursued projects like the concentration camp at Dachau, which opened in 1933, and the “euthanasia” of disabled children, which began in the summer of 1939.
What did the AP decide to cover, and how? Well, the head of AP’s picture service in Berlin went on to be an official Nazi photo censor. If AP photos from the German advance into Poland and Russia offered an image of the war that didn’t show things like the organized murder of tens of thousands of Jews and others behind the lines by the Einsatzgruppen, it was perhaps because the photos were taken by people like Franz Roth—who was, we learn from Scharnberg’s report, simultaneously an “AP photographer, SS-Oberscharführer (senior squad leader) and photojournalist in the SS Propaganda Company (SS-PK).” In his SS role, Roth took propaganda images showing Soviet prisoners as ugly human specimens—and AP, in turn, “received exclusive rights to the propaganda photos,” which were published in newspapers in Atlanta and Los Angeles.
While claiming to be covering Germany, the historian argued, the AP photo operation was, in fact, engaged in an illusion of coverage crafted in partnership with the Nazi regime. Instead of reporting on the reality of life under the regime, the AP—blinded and hobbled by its accommodations and relationships—helped obscure what was actually happening inside Germany and the way the Nazis waged war. The impact at the time is hard to determine, Scharnberg writes: “Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that the intuitive sympathies and antipathies of American newspaper readers were not unaffected, at least in the short-term, by pictures that usually depicted the Germans as triumphant blitzkrieg fighters and their opponents as sullen, sly military failures.”
The historian’s report was damaging enough to warrant a fascinating and deeply researched counter-report from the AP on its wartime record, published last month. The factual findings of the AP’s own report do much to amplify Scharnberg’s indictment, and in the right hands could have been an admirable exercise in self-criticism. But the AP chose to present its findings with a defensive tone that suggests that while the news organization has unearthed a great deal of information, editors there remain confused about what it all means.
Yes, we learn, the AP cooperated with the purging of Jews when competitors like The New York Times refused to accept Nazi dictates and left—but it cooperated only after “resisting,” and it turned out to be for the Jews’ own good: “AP helped them resettle safely to other countries, which allowed all of them to survive the Holocaust that soon followed.” Yes, the AP’s photo office did cooperate on a propaganda project with Das Schwarz Korps, the official SS magazine—but we should know that AP executives were “distressed” by this.
Did the AP protest the use of its photos in propaganda that fueled genocide? “To date, no records have surfaced to suggest AP objected to such practices at the time,” the report admits. But—yes, this admission is actually followed by a “but”—we should be reassured that rules about handling such cases were changed in the 1960s. Had the AP protested at the time, the report explains, it could have lost access in Germany, and moreover: “Termination of the photo service going to German subscribers would also have cost AP some revenue.” (An American in charge of the photo operation in Germany, we learn, considered the SS magazine “a good customer.”)
After the war, the AP rehired one of its staffers who had joined the Waffen SS and employed him until he retired in 1978. Another character connected to the AP photo operation, Helmut Laux, who was also part of the SS, preferred never to discuss his wartime activities, according to his daughter. “During his whole life,” she tells us, “he was just interested in the future, not the past.” One wonders why.
The argument in the AP’s counter-report is that while mistakes were made here and there, the big decisions were right. Whatever the cost, the AP “concluded it had to remain to provide coverage for U.S. newspapers and the American public.”
The AP’s justification for its actions is what makes the dueling reports worthy of attention, and not just from historians. Or, to quote the AP’s old associate from the SS: What’s interesting about this affair is “the future, not the past.” The choice faced by the AP in the 1930s—leave with your integrity intact, or stay and collaborate in the name of access—didn’t end with WWII, and is hardly the sole concern of the AP. It’s a question that affects most news organizations operating today, and one that is almost always answered wrong.
Western news organizations that maintain a presence in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, make compromises in return for access and almost never tell readers what those compromises are. The result, in many cases, is something worse than no coverage—it’s something that looks like coverage, but is actually misinformation, giving people the illusion that they know what’s going on instead of telling them outright that they’re getting information shaped by regimes trying to mislead them.
A good example came to light in 2014, seven decades after the moral confusion detailed in Scharnberg’s report, with the publication of a detailed exposé on the AP’s bureau in North Korea. It sounds familiar: The “bureau” in Pyongyang, wrote veteran journalist Nate Thayer, reporting for the specialist website NKNews.com, was not staffed by AP reporters from outside the country: The full-time staffers were North Koreans who were paid by AP but answered to the regime. A written agreement between the AP and the North Korean government allowed the AP to sell propaganda images, like those lovely choreographed rallies, outside the country, while the North Korean “staffers” studiously avoided subjects like mass starvation and prison camps. (The AP was unhappy with Thayer’s report and dismissed his claims, but it didn’t refute them.)
The most relevant example from my own experience as an AP correspondent in Jerusalem between 2006 and 2011 is Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, and where the AP has a sub-bureau. Running that sub-bureau requires both passive and active cooperation with Hamas. To give one example of many, during the Israel-Hamas war that erupted at the end of 2008, our local Palestinian reporter in Gaza informed the news desk in Jerusalem that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and were being counted as civilians in the death toll—a crucial detail. A few hours later, he called again and asked me to strike the detail from the story, which I did personally; someone had clearly spoken to him, and the implication was that he was at risk. (After I published this detail in an essay for Tablet in 2014, the bureau chief at the time confirmed it, adding that a refusal to comply would have put our reporter’s life in danger.)
From that moment on, more or less, AP’s coverage from Gaza became a quiet collaboration with Hamas. Certain rules were made clear to the local staffers in Gaza, and those of us outside Gaza were warned not to put our Gazan staff at risk. Our coverage shifted accordingly, though we never informed our readers. Hamas military actions were left vague or ignored, while the effects of Israeli actions were reported at length, giving the impression of wanton Israeli aggression, just as Hamas wanted.
When a reporter wrote a story about Hamas censorship in the summer of 2014, editors shelved it. We were trading truth for access and providing an illusion of “coverage” that was actually propaganda—a kind all the more effective because it was not tagged “propaganda” but simply “Gaza City (AP).” You can show genuine footage of a house destroyed by an Israeli strike, but if you don’t show the Hamas fighters launching a rocket from the backyard, your report is a lie.
The news industry’s answer to this kind of criticism tends to be that reporting part of the story is better than nothing, just as the AP argued that “it was critical for AP to remain in Germany and gather news and photos during this crucial period”—even if the “news and photos” in question were shaped by the Nazis, and actively used by them to achieve strategic aims. This decision was controversial even at the time. One of the most interesting parts of the AP’s own report quotes U.S. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, criticizing the AP’s work in Germany in 1941: “I sometimes wonder,” he wrote, “whether we would not be better off without dispatches from that country if the alternative is to be fed daily doses of arsenical propaganda.”
Yet some of the people making decisions about news haven’t changed their thinking since then, even though no one today questions the true nature of the Nazi regime or the gap between those AP photos and the ones we’ve now seen from places like Dachau and Auschwitz. “It is essential to cover tyrannical regimes and other undemocratic movements, when possible from within the borders they control, in order to accurately relay what is happening inside,” Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said in a statement accompanying the new AP report. “That is what we do, without compromising AP’s independence or standards.”
But in reality, if you’re inside the borders of a tyrannical regime, you can’t “accurately relay what is happening inside.” And once you’ve established a permanent presence inside, as all three examples discussed here show, your independence and standards are compromised by definition. To obscure that fact, news organizations end up further compromising themselves.
The report on WWII is an opportunity to look again at the automatic bias in favor of “access,” and to ask if things might not be done differently. In the case of Gaza, for example, is the right choice really to have staffers inside, when their reporting can be controlled by Hamas? Or would it be more productive for the AP and others news organizations to report from outside Gaza while working sources on the inside and making use of external players (Egyptian intelligence, Israeli intelligence, Palestinian reporters in the West Bank) to give a more accurate picture of events?
Or instead of paying for an illusory “bureau” in Pyongyang and getting in bed with Kim Jong-un, why not devote that money to hiring the most knowledgeable people in South Korea and developing information from dissidents, refugees, and spies, which, in expert hands—and there are plenty at the AP’s disposal—might actually be able to yield an approximation of the truth? While these solutions are far from perfect, they’re preferable from the standpoint of news-gathering. Credible information that is explicitly presented as incomplete is far better than a distorted picture presented as reality.
In 2017, consumers of news are beset as never before with a blizzard of disinformation. There is no alternative to mainstream news sources. No Twitter feed is going to replace The New York Times or the AP. And yet much information published in established sources is unreliable, sometimes for the reasons discussed here. Many flaws and misunderstandings have crept into journalistic practice over time, like the idea that it’s permissible to collaborate with dictatorships and obfuscate about it, or that telling half the story is better than leveling with readers and admitting that your hands are tied. This renders journalism vulnerable to the claim that there is no “fake news” because it’s all fake, anyway.
The people in charge at the AP were wrong in 1935. It matters today because they and their competitors are wrong now in similar ways. It’s a good time for journalists to think deeply about the ways the profession has failed—80 years ago, two years ago, last week—and about ways to better serve a world that badly needs us to do our job.
À septuagésima edição voltou a fazer-se história na Croissette: Sofia Coppola tornou-se a segunda mulher a vencer o prémio de realização no Festival de Cinema de Cannes. “120 Beats per Minute”, de Robin Campillo, foi outro dos grandes vencedores.
Paris, início dos anos 1990, sexo, drogas, rock ‘n’ roll e os homossexuais começam a morrer do então apelidado “cancro gay”. Depois dos EUA a epidemia da SIDA chega à Europa. Paris tem um dos focos mais graves da infecção pelo VIH. É este o epicentro de “120 Beats per Minute” (2017), do realizador marroquino Robin Campillo. “120 BPM”, como é já designado, chegou a ser apontado como o grande favorito da edição deste ano de Cannes. Levou para casa o Grande Prémio, atribuído pelo júri presidido por Pedro Almodóvar, e a Queer Palm para a Melhor Longa-Metragem com conteúdo LGBTI.cultura LGBT
Some people don’t like. They think they are terrorists
As the new goodwill ambassador of UNHCR, Cate has had a great interview on live last week on Facebook, where she discussed ehr work for refugees, shared her thoughts, and how not, showed her great sense of humor! Watch the interview here:
Plus Cate took part in a great video for refugees among other artists from around the world, watch here:
The title of “The Present,” now playing on Broadway, is a clever one. The play takes place at a summer house in Russia on the occasion of a 40th birthday, and its props include a few physical gifts — notably, a chess set and an antique gun. (The play is a Chekhov adaptation, so yes, both get used before the final curtain falls.) But it’s also concerned with the specters raised by “the present” as a concept, particularly in a group of friends with years of history between them: How does the past of each relationship impact how we might feel about it now? How much can we ever depend on the future?
The linchpin of the proceedings is the birthday girl, Anna, played by Cate Blanchett with wit, grace and physical deftness. She spends much of the play’s first half smiling in amusement, resolutely unruffled by the impassioned meltdowns of those around her, and much of its second half shouting and seducing and dancing on tables. During a busy time for Blanchett — in addition to the three-hour run of the play each night, she’s also the face of Armani’s Sì fragrance, which launches a new iteration of its Rose Signature scent next month — she answered a few questions for T.
When watching “The Present,” we get the impression that all of these characters are entrenched in ways of relating to each other, which then transform or explode as the play goes on. How did that back story take shape for you?
I think you’re absolutely right. The characters all want things from each other that they can’t deliver on; they’re all in love with the wrong person at the wrong time. A 40th birthday with a lot of alcohol and unresolved lust and longing is a very combustible set of circumstances. It was really exciting to work with people that I’ve worked with for a long time on this, because in Chekhov, not a lot happens, but everything happens. It’s all about time spent with each other.
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You’ve spent a long time with Anna by now — you were playing her when you were interviewed for an August 2015 T cover story. Are you still discovering new things about her and about this story as you continue to play it?
When you work with really playful, inventive, intelligent actors who are very open, as I’m having the great good fortune to do right now, I think it constantly opens up; and if the work is rich and deep, it’s a joy to return to it. We first performed it about 18 months ago, and then we had a hiatus and people went off and did other things, and then we came back together. We sort of collided with the past experience, but took it somewhere — not different, but somewhere deeper.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had that experience of driving home, and the route is exactly the same, but you’re preoccupied with something different, so you forget how you got here. On a good night, that’s the experience you have in the theater. People are always saying, “Oh, my god, it must be so tiring to do the same thing every night.” It’s the same journey, but you arrive there slightly differently depending on what other people do.
And also, I must say, performing to an American audience right now in the wake of the inauguration of the current administration, there’s whole layers of meaning — of moral compromise and uncertainty of the future and what is right, what is wrong — that have always been in the play, but because the audience brings that to bear, it’s shifted the play slightly, which has been really interesting.
How, as an actress, have you seen that borne out when you’re playing the part? Is it just a feeling in the air, is it that laugh lines are slightly different…?
As an actor on stage, the audience often thinks that they’re there to be entertained, but they’re a vital, active component of the evening. It’s not about laughter, necessarily; it’s quality of listening. Broadway audiences are so literate: They love theater, they love being told stories, they love a surprise. And that, coupled with the current — it’s not even a political climate, it’s like a moral climate — has meant that the play’s been attended to in a slightly different way.
I think we’re all so hyperaware of our relationships to the truth right now, and to our sense of objectivity, in every interaction we have throughout a day.
Language is incredibly powerful: the words we choose to use, and how we choose to use them. I remember ages ago, the word “evil” was purloined, and it’s been very bewildering to me watching the word “refugee” morph into the word “immigrant” morph into the word “terrorist” within the space of nine months. “Truth” is an immutable word: Something is true or it is not. Theater, actually, its currency is language.
You mentioned the inherent drama of a 40th birthday party that collects people from different stages in someone’s life. Do you think there’s anything specific about that time of life that is more likely to give rise to dramatic situations?
It’s very built up, that moment in a person’s life, the 40th. And I think for her, it’s compounded with the need or desire to move on and to take stock of where she’s at; and take what is useful and valuable and worthwhile from the past, and jettison that which is not as she moves into the future. There’s certain points in one’s life where one takes stock, and I think in an archetypical way, turning 40 is often that moment, but for many people it’s not. For many people it’s their mid-40s or their 50s or their 60s. It depends on the degree of maturation, I think, and self-awareness that the person has.
You’ve been a brand ambassador for Armani for some time — what were your first impressions of the new Sì fragrance? Are there any memories or emotions it evokes for you?
I think there’s a definite optimism in calling a fragrance Sì at the moment, particularly a female scent. We have to be positive and forward-looking, and we have to say yes to those things we believe in and yes to ourselves. When Mr. Armani spoke to me about being the face of the fragrance, I had no idea there were going to be so many iterations. I love a fragrance that has those deeper woody notes that develop so beautifully — but this has got a double rose. Normally, I’m not a fan of rose, but because the rose is green, and there’s a Turkish rose in there, which has a hint of orange to it, it’s actually really beautiful. It’s humorous and optimistic, which I think is a good way to start the day.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
May 31, 2017
Yemen is facing “total social, economic and institutional collapse,” the United Nations’ top humanitarian official said Tuesday.
Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien warned the U.N. Security Council that “urgent action is needed” to bring the Arab country back from the brink of famine and disease, the BBC reports.
Seven million Yemenis are currently at risk of famine, with another ten million facing dire food shortages. An outbreak of cholera has killed 500 people since late April, and the U.N. expects 150,000 more cases of the disease in the next six months.
O’Brien said that only 24% of the $2.1 billion needed for humanitarian aid in the country had so far been pledged, and he urged the international community to take immediate action to avert catastrophe.
“Crisis not coming, it is not looming,” he said. “It is here today — on our watch and ordinary people are paying the price.”
Yemen has been mired in conflict for the past two years with as many as 8,000 people, mostly civilians, killed in clashes between Houthi rebels and pro-government forces backed by neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The escalating conflict has also allowed al-Qaeda to reestablish itself in Yemen, taking over swaths of territory in the south and southeast of the country.
The U.N. estimates that 18.8 million people — almost two thirds of the population — are in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen, which was already the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula before its enduring political crisis.[BBC]