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Eight Girls Taking Pictures

3.28 of 5 stars 3.28  ·  rating details  ·  1,126 ratings  ·  259 reviews
Bestselling author Whitney Otto’ s Eight Girls Taking Pictures i s a profoundly moving portrayal of the lives of women, imagining the thoughts and circumstances that produced eight famous female photographers of the twentieth century.

This captivating novel opens in 1917 as Cymbeline Kelley surveys the charred remains of her photography studio, destroyed in a fire started
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 6th 2012 by Scribner (first published January 1st 2012)
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I confess that I shorten unfamiliar proper nouns when I read a book. I didn't try to phonetically read "Naakkve" each time I come across that name in Kristin Lavransdatter - I just accept it as that block of letters and move on. "Anna Karenina" becomes either "Kareninininina" or "Karena" or "Anna K" while I am reading the pages to myself. I blame third grade speed reading drills.

There were not a lot of unfamiliar proper nouns that I needed to breeze past in Eight Girls Taking Pictures, but there
I have really conflicted feelings about this book. I enjoyed it, and yet it wasn't what I wanted or expected. It is broken up into 8 "short stories" about women photographers in history, and it is based on real women but fictionalized. I love historical fiction, but this is not that, and I found it frustrating. I found myself wanting to know, needing to know who the real life woman was and then actually scoffed at the changed names to some of the other historical people -- Tin Type instead of Ma ...more
Red Ferry
I loved this novel, each chapter exploring the life of a different woman photographer. Inspired by actual photographers but reimagined by this talented author. The stories take place at different times, with some overlap (late 1900's, 1920's, '30s, '50's, 1980's, so that some characters actually meet, while others discover earlier photographer's work while pursuing their own. Some fabulous references here that I'd never heard of: Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, Bomarzo Garden of Monsters. ...more
Whitney Otto has done her homework. Not only does she beautifully capture the history of photography, the details of the art, and the social contexts of her eight ‘girls’ over time, she has provided a thoughtful meditation on the role of women in history as well as the role women play in their own lives. While the struggles remain constant in scope, each of Otto’s photographers approaches her conflicts in a different way, creating a kind of literary canvas for the intersections between life, lov ...more
"Eight Girls Taking Pictures: A Novel" is none of the things you might expect from the title. Rather than a novel, it's actually a collection of eight short stories, some novella length. And while there are eight stories about women photographers, at least one of those stories features two women, so I count at least nine girls taking pictures.

That nitpicking aside, it's a wonderful book. Author Whitney Otto explores the ways women's lives and opportunities changed and the ways they stayed the sa
Dec 03, 2012 Mairi rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012, arc
This was neither the book I expected, nor really the one I wanted. I went into it hoping for uplifting, empowering, some success in the face of adversity wrapped up in photo jargon and a vivid description or two or twenty. What I got was the same story told over and over again in different cities and in different time periods: Girl has progressive parents, girl takes up photography, girl eventually settles down and gives up or otherwise hamstrings her art for her male love interest and we get to ...more
I very rarely choose not to finish a book, but in the case of "Eight Girls Taking Pictures", about half way through the book I decided not to waste any more of my time on it. There just seemed to be no point - or maybe I was just missing the point. Each section of the book somewhat described the life of a different female photographer - but other than the location, they all seemed interchangeable. Additionally, I never felt any connection with any of the characters - it became almost a chore to ...more
This book had lots of potential, I thought ... photography through the ages, across the world, through the female artist's eye ... and it did all this, sure, but really every woman's story was how her life was affected/changed/thwarted/overpowered/distracted/overshadowed, etc. by romantic entanglements with men. Men men men. Men were the photographers, women assisted, or modeled. Men worked, women photographers ultimately resigned themselves to marriage, kids, and "hobby" photography, maybe. So ...more
I wanted to like this book so badly – both my husband and one of my best friends each saw it separately and thought of me. It was a fictional account of female photographers from 1910 through the late '80s and how their art intersected with their home lives, etc. Many of the stories took place in San Francisco. It should have been amazing and right up my alley. But I feel like it should have been called "Depressing Sex and Cameras." Seriously. Or an alternate title, "Your Life Ends When You Have ...more
Rebecca McNutt
Ever since my mom bought me a super 8 home movie camera, a Brownie box camera and two old Kodak Instamatics, I've been going through this phase (obsession) with the history, superiority and nostalgia of film. I'll admit that it was the cover of this book with the vintage camera that drew me to it, but the story, featuring women with a vibrant passion for photography in the early 1900's, was even more brilliant. It was beautifully written and vivid, filled with gripping imagery and creativity. Th ...more
I should have loved this book: I studied photography and art history. I just couldn't get into it. It felt less like a novel and more like a college student's first attempt at a collection of historical short stories. Facts about whatever areas/periods were being covered were thrown in, often interrupting the flow of prose and creating a sense the author was trying to show off her breadth of research. Good historical fiction writers weave the facts in so they color the story, not footnote it. Th ...more
Simone Benedict
After reading Eight Girls, I'm kicking myself for missing out on Whitney Otto's previous works. As a literary work, this novel is delightful in its construction.

The joy I found in reading Eight Girls was not only through the eight separate vignettes, but also in considering the conceptual glues, of sorts, connecting them over time and their separate lives. On the one hand, all people make these sort of connections with their past memories in order to form a story of who they are. On the other,
Obligatory mention: I got my copy thru First-Reads.
That said - this is one well written novel!
A wonderfully thought out story that explores both the history of photography, the evolution of women’s rights and world history thru compelling stories.
The topics discussed are as diverse as the women the stories follow: homosexuality, Nazi Germany, the horrors of war, marriage inequality, gossip, youth, freedom, dreams, responsibility, young love, and so much more.
Of particular interest to me was ho
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 20, 2015 Rachael rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: dnf
This review contains some minor spoilers. I admit that I only made it to page 113 of this book before giving up. I really really tried to love this's been on my TBR list for ages (since before it was first released) and I finally wound up purchasing a copy recently. I went into this book thinking (based on the synopsis on the back cover) that I would be reading a story/stories about female photographers and all the trials and tribulations they face in life as they pursue(d) their passi ...more
I enjoyed this book, but some of the stories seemed rushed & misplaced. I also thought that more of the stories were going to intertwine. It only seems like Cymbeline Kelly was a recurring character. One of the stories that I loved left me with so many unanswered questions. I wasn't sure what happened next. Overall it was good, but not the best that I've read.
Really enjoyed this collection of short stories about women photographers throughout the 20th century. Each one of the "eight girls" is an interesting character, driven by their talent and desire to take photographs and challenged by the difficulty of integrating their profession with husbands, lovers, and children. I really liked how each woman's story revealed a different era, beginning in 1917 and concluding in the early 1990s, and that each short story was set in a different location, includ ...more
Perhaps if I had noticed this authors previous works I would not have picked this one up, shows that I do not entirely read the front cover when I pick out books. Otto also wrote How to Make an American Quilt.
The writing in my opinion was lacking. There is nothing that hooked me into reading farther into the text than I got. The stories felt too repetitive after the first three. The women in focus are all dealing with too similar issues and maybe that is the point of the text. Professionalism vs
Lolly K Dandeneau
Liked it but... I read a review someone wrote where they said though the stories were good, she was unable to care about the characters. My experience was the same in that I didn't feel much for any of the women. It was a strange read because I did find the stories interesting, well written- but I didn't like them or feel they were alive. I can't really express my tangled feelings about this novel- it really is a weird feeling. The key moments in history and the effects they had on each woman mo ...more
Catherine Stickann
I won this delightful read on Goodreads First Read. Thank you to the author and publisher for sending it to me. I try to give all books I review a fair and impartial read.

Full of wonderful quotes like the ones below, this book delights the reader throughout.

"No one really survived the Great War. No person, no place. It was too far-reaching , too catastrophic, too unimaginable." pg. 64

" . . . but the small American towns lagged years behind. In some of those towns it wasn't 1967, it was 1957 and
If you are a Whitney Otto fan, I would recommend this, with the tip to just read it, don't read the reviews, don't get a preconceived notion of what the book is about, just read it because you enjoy her writing.
With that said, here's my review...
For me, I felt this book, at least the first five (of eight) short stories was more about sexuality than photography; the girls were all described as androgynous. There was more focus on their affairs and sexual relationships and lack of "normal" sexual
Susan Conklin
I loved this book for very personal reasons, my father was a photographer and owned a photo business, my brother, a photographers gave it to me, I am a photographer and I own a cheaper version of the camera on the cover. Besides that, I loved the premise of taking 8 girls and connecting them each with a camera and with the first girl, a fictitious professional photographer of the early part of the 20th century. There is a thread there, but each story could stand on its own, eight short stories l ...more
It's not so much that I couldn't get into this, I just couldn't stand how boring it was.

the only reason I picked this one up was because it described a woman named Cymbeline (The Shakespeare play of the same name is one of my personal favorites.) But I was unable to connect with any of the characters and their actions and motivations didn't make sense. It felt too much like woman abandoning their selfhood for the men in their lives, and also just behaving stupidly (view spoiler)
I was irritated by this book. Too much research, not enough character development. And the women all seemed to have a father fetish.. there was a sameness to them, no matter what time period they lived in. I finally gave up halfway through.

In contrast, I would highly recommend MOMENTS CAPTURED by Robert Seidman or SHORT NIGHTS OF THE SHADOW CATCHER by Timothy Egan. The first is roughly based on the life of Edward Muybridge and the second tells the story of Edward Curtis, the remarkable, turn of
I wanted to love this book. I tried to love this book. I didn't even finish reading this book. I gave up about 2/3rds of the way through it. I love historical fiction, and I love photography, so I thought this would be a great read for me... but it was hard to truly understand the characters, and get to the point where I wanted to know more about them. I felt like I was reading articles in a magazine, or a long book report on a biography. I have given myself permission to stop reading any book I ...more
Kim Ayre
I enjoyed the book and the richness of the characters; the female characters have wonderfully independent minds. Yet the book didn't captivate me. I read it consistently, but only in small doses so it took me a long time to finish. The experience of the reading the book was one of reading the autobiographies of female photographers, which I loved, but the stories didn't have the color, sound and smell that pulls a reader into a character's life. I would recommend it, however, to all female 19-25 ...more
Kate Gardiner
Am in love with this book! All of my female photography friends will connect with a lot of the experiences the women go through. But I think male photographers will appreciate the photo history. This is definitely a book that should be judged by its cover. Great artwork! The only thing keeping me from giving it 5 stars is the fact that it is 8 separate stories that get referred back to. Had a hard time keeping everyone straight and had to keep flipping back. Could just be the fact I can only sta ...more
I appreciate Whitney Otto's writing the same way I love to let a bit of chocolate melt on my tongue and flow down my throat. So while these stories may be a bit more explicitly sensual than I prefer, the stories are intriguing and interwoven in a clever manner.

The stories revolve around women photographers who buck convention and carve out their own niches in the art world and on the home front. Based very loosely on historical matter, Ms. Otto fleshes out the social milieu of the time period e
Full Stop
Jun 11, 2014 Full Stop added it
Shelves: fall-2012

Review by Leigh Gallagher

People like to talk about what they like, writers especially; stereotypically lonely people, inside they are devoted fan boys and fan girls who’ve found a number of ways to worship their idols in print. The novels of Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon are peopled with characters who share the tastes of Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon. Books like Joanna Scott’s Arrogance, a portrait of Egon Shiele told through various fictional p
Lydia Chubak
Mar 24, 2014 Lydia Chubak rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lauren Souch
Recommended to Lydia by: No one
I loved it, especially as someone who enjoys taking photos.

Inspired by 8 female, feministic photographers of the 20th century, the author conjured a number of beautiful love stories. The women had a love for their art, a love for their partners/families and a love of life.

I found this novel inspiring and educational. I've learned more about the photographers theirs works on which the author imagined the stories. I also learned I'm not alone in this world in how I think sometimes. I identified
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Whitney Otto is the bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt (which was made into a feature film), Now You See Her, and The Passion Dream Book. A native of California, she lives with her husband and son in Portland, Oregon.
More about Whitney Otto...
How to Make an American Quilt A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity The Passion Dream Book Now You See Her Pieces Of An American Quilt: Patty Mc Cormick & The Stunt Quilters

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“While she was in transit, being unattached was exhilarating, but the moment she stopped, so did the high.” 17 likes
“I never think anyone in love is foolish. We do the best we can.” 5 likes
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