Festival Speaker Series

Women Changing the Face of Documentary Photography

Thursday, May 2, 12:00 pm noon Eastern Time, via Zoom

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Photo by Aida Muluneh
Photo by Aida Muluneh. The Rain of Fire, 2020.


Online presentation and discussion with Aida Muluneh, Smita Sharma, and Leah DeVun. Moderated by J. Sybylla Smith.

The who, what and how of witnessing has been changing (ever so slowly) over the past century. Our visual culture landscape is moving towards a more expansive, artistic and instructive approach to documentary photography. This panel of women* photographers will share examples of their work and discuss their innovative and alternative methods of documenting truth and reality. Their work strives to further understanding, influence awareness, and initiate reaction. It is consciously inclusive, collaborative, and transgressive. Knowingly these image-makers intrigue and beguile as their aesthetically compelling images are the result of extensive research, hard-earned access, creative conceptual expression and substantial educational promise. 

Aida Muluneh

Aida MulunehBorn in Addis Ababa in 1974, Muluneh graduated from Howard University in Washington D.C. with a degree from the Communication Department with a major in Film. Her photography has been published widely and can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Hood Museum, The RISD Museum of Art, and the Museum of Biblical Art in the United States. She was the 2007 recipient of the European Union Prize in the Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie in Bamako, Mali, the 2010 winner of the CRAF International Award of Photography in Spilimbergo, Italy, and a 2018 CatchLight Fellow in San Francisco, USA. In 2019, she became the first black woman to co-curate the Nobel Peace Prize exhibition and in the following year, she returned as a commissioned artist for the prize.
She has been a jury member for several photography competitions, most notably the Sony World Photography Awards and the World Press Photo Contest in 2017. She has also been on various panel discussions on photography, including the African Union Cultural Summit, Art Basel, TEDx/Johannesburg, and the Sem Presser Lecture at the 2019 World Press Photo Festival in Amsterdam.  
Muluneh founded the Addis Foto Fest (AFF), the first international photography festival in East Africa held since 2010 and the Africa Foto Fair in Côte d'Ivoire.  She has also established the Africa Foto Fair virtual publication that brings emerging and established talents to the global photography community. In addition, she established the Africa Print House which offers fine art photography printing through her studio based in Abidjan. 


Smita Sharma

Smita SharmaSmita Sharma is a Delhi-based photojournalist who has documented social justice, sexual crimes, human trafficking, and environmental issues in the Global South through long-form visual narratives. Smita is a TED fellow, TED Speaker and an IWMF reporting fellow. For Stolen Lives, her in-depth work documenting sex trafficking in India and Bangladesh for National Geographic Magazine, she received the Amnesty International Media award and the Fetisov Journalism Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting. Smita also received the Indian of the Year award, Exceptional Women of Excellence award, Las Fotos Advocacy award, and One World Media UK award. Her work has been published in National Geographic Magazine, The Nature Conservancy, Wall Street Journal, TIME, BBC World, Human Rights Watch, Die Zeit amongst many others and exhibited globally including at the UN headquarters in New York. Smita is actively engaged in public speaking, victim advocacy, and international public education. Her book We Cry In Silence documenting cross-border trafficking of underage girls in South Asia (FotoEvidence) received the Award of Excellence at POY International and the 2023 Lucie Photo Book Prize in the Independent Category. 

Leah DeVun

Leah DeVunLeah DeVun is a Brooklyn-based photographer and scholar whose work focuses on gender, LGBTQ communities, and the politics of the body. DeVun has been featured or interviewed in Artforum, New York Times, Huffington Post, People Magazine, Hyperallergic, Out, Art Papers, Feature Shoot, Redbook, and Slate, and venues presenting her work include Baxter Street Camera Club, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Blanton Museum of Art, Houston Center for Photography, Leslie-Lohman Museum, the ONE Archives Gallery and Museum at the University of Southern California, Royal Photographic Society, Stonewall National Museum and Archives, and Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery. Her most recent series, “Resemblance,” was selected for Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 50 and the New York Portfolio Review, and it will be the subject of a solo exhibition at Mrs. Gallery in New York this spring. DeVun received a Ph.D. from Columbia University and is a professor of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Rutgers University. 


J. Sybylla Smith, Moderator

J. Sybylla SmithJ. Sybylla Smith brings a concept development lens to her work as an independent curator, podcaster and consultant. Smith is on a mission to illuminate, elevate and amplify the work of women photographers and other marginalized, underrepresented narratives. Her approach to visual storytelling is with an intersectional lens and a focus on equity and inclusion.

Her Concept Aware® podcast engages thousands of listeners from over 70 countries in a visual culture conversation rooted in the contemporary photobook-making process. Her 80 + interviews explore creative practice and concept development. Her creative framework, Concept Aware®: How You See & Why It Matters, provides specific tools to visual artists to bring their abstract ideas to fruition in image, text, exhibition and book form.

Her curation features 115+ international photographers in over 30 exhibitions in the U.S., Mexico, Columbia and Japan. She consults with international photographers to refine ideas, develop portfolios, hone projects, create exhibitions and complete book proposals. Smith guest lectures and teaches workshops on Concept Aware® at educational institutions and arts organizations nationally, writes for publications on contemporary photography and jurys global photo exhibitions and awards.


Sponsored by:

Digital Silver Imaging