Queen Boudicca wouldn't run away CoverArtist: Photographer E. Katie Holm finds strength in portraying women warriors from history
Policarpa Salavarrieta of Colombia, top, Queen Boudicca of England, and Nanny of the Maroons, Jamaica, are three women from history portrayed by photographer E. Katie Holm (bottom) in her series of "Women Warriors."
by Norma Smith Olson
E. Katie Holm had a thing for King Arthur, that is, until she found out about Queen Boudicca. She was watching "Battlefield Britain," a history program on TV, when she learned about this "tough lady with a sword who basically fended off the Roman army when they were invading England in 61 A.D.," Holm said.
At the time, Holm was struggling with a project to enter in the 15th anniversary exhibit of the Women Photographers and Visual Artists (WPVA). Because of her discovery of Queen Boudicca, a series called "Women Warriors" was created.
"I wondered, 'What would it have been like if I could time travel and photograph these women? What would they look like?'" Holm said. "I had to find out."
She researched stories about strong, courageous women, most without existing portraits. She looked for descriptions of individuals and studied what people in a region looked like at the time. She researched costuming and weaponry. She gathered costumes and props from a variety of resources-including Civil War re-enactors and set builders, the Guthrie costume shop and eBay. When she was ready, she put out an open call for models.
"The first four women portrayed were from the British Isles," Holm said of the photographs she entered in the 2007 WPVA show at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wis. In addition to Queen Boudicca of England, c. 61 A.D., she portrayed Grace O'Malley, Ireland, c. 1530-1603, Lady Agnes Randolph, Scotland, c.1312-1369, and Jemima Nicholas of Wales, 1755-1832.
"One of the things I've strived to do in this project is not to work with professional models. I like to work with everyday women. That's what these women were," Holm said of the women in history. "Some of them were queens and leaders, but a lot of them just rose to the occasion-'Something's going wrong and I need to take care of it. So, here we go. I guess I'm doing this,'" Holm imagined the women saying.
After the WPVA exhibit, Holm portrayed more "women warriors" representing cultures from around the world. With a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, she expanded the series to 10.
olicarpa Salavarrieta, featured on this month's cover, was from Colombia, South America, c. 1795-1817. She was a seamstress and a spy during Spain's reoccupation of Colombia. "She was the most fascinating to me from this area because she was so young, so daring and brave," Holm said. Though captured and sentenced to death, she refused to kneel before her firing squad.
Salavarrieta is holding a little piece of fabric with a sewing needle, trying to hide the fact that she's carrying a dispatch in her hand.
Back to the present
Holm's day job is as a freelance commercial photographer, focusing primarily on food (posing a plate of spaghetti) or products for retail (close-ups of tires) and interior landscapes (restaurant settings). "Every day is different and that's what I love about it," she said.
Her parents gave her a camera when she was in fourth grade. Holm recalled setting up fashion runway scenes to photograph her Barbie doll, including garage sale paint-by-number scenes as the backdrops. She has lived in Minnesota since 1989 when she came to Northfield to attend St. Olaf College. She majored in English but took all of the photography classes that were offered. Aside from the "women warriors" photographs, she has worked in other "series"-black and white photos of cemetery headstones, rock 'n' roll bands, luscious food inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and Halloween-inspired "raven" images.
For Holm, personally, it's been exciting to find out about women in history who have done, what she terms, "heroic deeds. They stood up for what they believe in," she said. "While battle is not necessarily glorious, for these women, it may have been their only option. They are a symbol of strength-what any woman can do if you put your mind to it. Queen Boudicca wouldn't run away!"