Cowboy Girls - Karoliina Paatos

Women & The American West

Cowboy Girls - Karoliina Paatos

Featuring: Karen Miranda-Rivadeneira, Hilary Swift, Arlene Mejorado, Cara Romero, Karoliina Paatos

Presented By

Women Photograph

Curated By

Sara Ickow, Daniella Zalcman, Mallory Benedict

Additional Support by






The American West has always held a special place in the American imagination: the unexplored, the vast, the beautiful. Yet many conventional depictions of the West in art and visual culture revolve around an outmoded masculinity and represent land itself as a male-dominated space.

Women are often secondary characters relegated to two-dimensional tropes such as the damsel in distress in popular culture and documentary photography dating back to the early days of the medium. In reality, women play a pivotal role in how we understand the American west and its landscape.

Many Women Photograph members based in the west have spent time photographing and contemplating how our natural environment shapes us. These photojournalists engage with land not only as a backdrop for stories about its inhabitants, but also as a site of conflict, a source of scientific discovery, a dwelling place, and respite.

This collection of images demonstrates the variety of ways that contemporary women photographers represent the American west, expanding and challenging the existing understanding of this space and how its narrative has been crafted. Their work shows the importance of women as champions and storytellers in this space where they are often excluded or forced into the background.


Women Photograph is an initiative working to elevate the voices of women, transgender, and non-binary visual journalists. The private database includes more than 850 independent women documentary photographers based in 105 countries and is available to any commissioning editor or organization. In addition, Women Photograph also operates a grants program, a mentorship program, collects data on industry publishing metrics, and runs an annual skills building workshop.

Our mission is to shift the gender makeup of the photojournalism community and ensure that the industry’s chief storytellers are as diverse as the communities they hope to represent.

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