Rosalind Fox Solomon may not be a name you have heard of, but she’s certainly worth knowing.
Turning the pages of her latest book, Got To Go, many women will recognize themselves. Published by Mack and showing at Bruce Silverstein in New York— Solomon takes the viewer on a deeply personal, tragically funny, and thought-provoking investigation of the pressures that girls face as they grow up. She challenges society’s conventions about “little ladies” and explores how that creates the ever-widening confidence gap among girls and women. Her use of text and imagery is acute, pulling us into her inner world and pushing us back out into the universal.
“The voices from my past persisted,” Solomon tells TIME. “I remembered things that I perceived as a child. I remembered what I imagined. I remembered how I was hampered as a girl and as a woman by what was pounded into me as I was growing up.”
Solomon, now 85 years old, found photography late in life, beginning to take pictures at 38 while living in Chattanooga, Tenn. She later travelled to New York to study with photographer Lisette Model who pushed her to be free and to take the risks with her work that now defines her. Through her struggles, she found herself. “When I was a child, feeling like an outsider made me sad,” she says. “Later in life, being an outsider gave me strength and allowed me to begin making my pictures and to grow into who I am today.”
Around the time of reading Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique, she had a job offer that would take her to New York monthly. Her husband said it would mean divorce if she took it. Solomon, although depressed about her decision, backed down, she stayed in Tennessee with her husband and family – it was during that period that she began to take pictures focusing on dolls and manikins. “When I first discovered myself as an artist, the work that poured out of me was personal.” She felt it necessary to hide what motivated her work in the beginning fearing she would lose the life she had been conditioned to live. “Acknowledging what I was saying with my art would have quickly changed my life. I did not have the courage to face the world alone,” she says.
Eventually Solomon found the courage to face her life through her work. She began to travel to more remote and difficult places focusing on photographing shamans, rituals, and survival, showing a clear interest in transformation. “I photographed people living in raw circumstances,” she says. “Relative to their struggles, mine seemed minimal. ” It was managing these situations that gave her more confidence in her own abilities to stand alone and survive.
The title, Got to Go, is about how Solomon had to go away to become an independent person. And in the end, she finds it also relates to where she had to get to in order to be an artist. Today, she continues to go strong, “Reality is challenging and I don’t shy away from it.”
Caroline Smith, who edited this photo essay, is a special projects editor at TIME.