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Portraits of women

This week, we have two sites related to women and photography. In front of the camera, Women of Our Time offers portraits of some of the 20th century's preeminent personalities, while behind the lens, National Geographic's Women Photographers honors the magazine's female contributors (which date back to Eliza Skidmore in 1914).

While the mention of the National Portrait Gallery may first elicit mental images of oil paintings of George Washington, the collection - of course - also includes much more recent works, and Women of Our Time (WoOT) features photographs of some of the most famous and/or influential American women of the last one hundred years. The WoOT Gallery is presented in the form of a long horizontal scroll, with subjects ranging from Helen Keller and Rosa Parks to Marilyn Monroe and Julia Child. Sprinkled with a few quotes, the gallery is dominated by unlabeled photographs which reveal the subject's name upon mouseover. Scrolling through the collection is accomplished by merely moving the mouse pointer to one side of the screen or the other. Clicking on a specific photograph replaces the gallery with a page devoted to that particular subject, with text and a larger version of the photograph.

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In addition to the Gallery, Women of Our Time also offers two video features. Biographical Moments in Portrait Photography explores the subtext present in many portraits - whether it be in the style of an image, items in the frame that relate to the subject, or even a context impossible to know at the time of shooting (such as Amelia Earhart posing in an aircraft being built for what was to be her final flight). Styles in Photographic Portraiture follows the evolution of photographic techniques, from soft focus pictorialism, controlled and technically flawless studio shots, to works with a candid or photojournalistic feel. Both these narrated videos can be paused or scrolled to any point in the presentation. Text versions are available if video downloads take too long.

On the other side of the camera, we have the photojournalists, and while it's easy to fall victim to stereotype by picturing all photojournalists as men, the museum's National Geographic's Women Photographers demonstrates there is no monopoly at one of the nations' most 'image conscious' publications.

The online legacy of a now closed exhibit, Women Photographers, features the work of five National Geographic photojournalists, with more than one hundred Geographic assignments between them. Each photographer's work is presented through an automatically running slide show, while the shooter's voice provides stories behind the images, as well as a the occasional anecdote. (An example of the latter is Jodi Cobb's rescue from a New York subway mugger - by a group of sidewalk Santas she had been shooting.) Each slide show ends with a biography, and previously viewed images can be revisited through a series of thumbnails at the bottom of the browser window.

The online presentation provides a brief glimpse of the photographers' works (six images in each slide show), but if you find the website sufficiently intriguing, the book on which the exhibition was based (containing more than 140 photographs) is available through an online gift shop or directly from the folks at National Geographic.

On the technical side, the site - made during the days of Flash 5 - doesn't seem to recognize more recent versions of the plug-in, but there's a click-to-continue link that allows visitors to ignore the site's upgrade advice, and the presentation works fine using Flash 6.

Women of Our Time can be found at http://www.npg.si.edu/cexh/woot/, with National Geographic's Women Photographers at http://www.newseum.org/womenphotographers/.


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