Photo exhibition In Women’s Hands, FDV, Ljubljana, SLO

In women’s hands / Petra Cvelbar photo exhibition

When: March 8, 2023 at 2 p.m.
Where: in the Gallery of the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana

The project In women’s hands is Petra’s very special photography project, which she has been devoting herself to for almost ten years. It was created rather spontaneously, when the author, while reviewing her archive, realized that she had attended many festivals at home and abroad, where no women had performed and many times she was also the only photographer under the stage. This made her think, and she devoted part of her photographic research to the topic of women in music.



The text for the exhibition was contributed by Irena Štaudohar:

For Annie Leibovitz’s photography book Women, her partner, the intellectual Susan Sontag, wrote a long introductory essay in which she stated that since the beginning of photography, of the utmost importance for a woman was to be beautiful, while a man had to be bold, defiant with an upright posture radiating a social status. 

But what I remember most from this essay is the story about how photographers used a special trick when portraying a woman. Just before being photographed, she was asked to slowly pronounce the French word: “Petitepomme.” When uttering the last “m” in the word, her lips would purse, her cheeks lift, and a dreamy shadow would fall on her face with a naive and cute look in her eyes. And that’s exactly the kind of woman’s face sought to be captured.

Later, the woman in the photographs became primarily an erotic object. The history of photography is, in a way, a story of the domesticated woman on the one hand, and the story of the woman as a sexual object of desire on the other.

However, the female musicians in Petra Cvelbar’s photos are something thoroughly different. It’s a distinctive genre. It must have been difficult to capture the lady musicians in the frame because they seem to be so free. While exploring them in the photographs, I think about how hard it is to avert the gaze —from their mouths, their hair, their eyes, and the instruments that are part of their bodies. The photographs are almost three-dimensional. Moreover, their faces are stories that can be read and flipped through like musical scores. Some are wild, and some are melancholic. Some are happy, and some are sad, like the sad song they play. Indeed, is the sadness that sad love songs arouse in us, our sadness, or the sadness of the song?

Female musician on stage! What a power! The rhythm of a woman’s body on stage is different from a man’s body. It is like a heartbeat in her body. The man on the stage plays his part and plays the very music while a female musician turns her soul inside out as one turns a glove. She is strong and fragile at the same time. Melodies echo within herself and shine through her eyes. 

Music and women! What a unique synthesis of energy! I recall Tolstoy, who was always afraid of music as it would make him uncontrollably overwhelmed by emotions. He used to have physical reactions to music. When his family sat around the piano enjoying the tunes, his eyebrows and his facial muscles suddenly began to twitch accompanied by a feeling of strange pressure in his throat, so he rushed to hide in the next-door room and burst into tears. “What does this music want from me?” he desperately wondered. He feared that the music would reveal something in himself that he was reluctant to show to others. He feared that he would be flung by a wave of sensuality and as he would no longer manage to control his behaviour. He had similar feelings about women. He felt hatred and fear towards them, they seemed alien to him. “What do women want from me?” he questioned. Women and music were a special metaphysical experience for him. And yet this bearded Russian created the most beautiful female characters in the history of literature. How perfectly he described Anna Karenina when she fell in love with Vronsky and felt her pupils dilate, her fingers and toes twitching vividly, and how something inside her took her breath away. Although he was afraid of women, he knew all about their inner world and their bodily sensations: the boiling milk in the mother’s breasts, the gurgling cold that washes over the shoulders of a young girl who is for the first time at a dance. Tolstoy believed that there were two great mysteries in the world – music and women. Both were his great fear and great inspiration. This exhibition juxtaposes them in its own way and unfolds them before our eyes. The mystery becomes the inspiration that life pours into.

– Irena Štaudohar, February 2023


Petra Cvelbar, photo by Žiga Koritnik



Highlights from the opening on March 8, caught by Žiga Korinik


Post by Petra Cvelbar

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