This International Women's Day, we thought we would take the opportunity to highlight five outstanding women in the world of illusions, art and photography that you might not know about.  

 

Maria Teresa Short 

Our list could only start with the one and only Maria Short. The original founder of the Short's Observatory on Castlehill, which is now home to our very own Camera Obscura & World of Illusions. Maria's story is one of perseverance against the odds. 

Admittedly, not much is known for sure about our illustrious founder, Maria Theresa Short. Amazingly, someone could have such a profound and lasting legacy on a city and not have even the basic details of when they were born on record. 

She arrived from the West Indies in 1827, claiming to be the daughter of Thomas Short- a prominent local optician who owned many different optical and scientific equipment and gadgets who had died some years earlier. Maria took the optical devices as her inheritance and used them to open an observatory on Calton Hill, which ended up closing following a battle with the council. She then added a camera obscura and opened the attraction to the public in 1835, with mixed reviews. For many, it charmed and delighted them, but a few very vocal objectors thought the whole thing was tasteless- the local council being amongst those who objected. Eventually, despite public outcry against it, the council forcibly evicted Maria and her observatory.

Undaunted, Maria bought a building on Castlehill and moved her attraction there in 1853. She opened a public observatory and museum of scientific curiosities, which would go on to become the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions as it exists today.

Regardless of her origin, her skills as a businesswoman and entertainer began an enduring legacy of wonder and imagination that has captured the hearts and minds of people all over the world for centuries.

 

Anna Atkins

Anna Atkins was a British photographer and botanist credited with establishing photography as a valid medium for scientific documentation. She was born on the 16th of March, 1799, in Tonbridge, United Kingdom, where she learned about the new medium of photography through correspondence with its inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot. 

For her own practice, she used the cyanotype printing method taught to her by its inventor, Sir John Herschel, a family friend. This process allowed Atkins to place her specimens directly on top of the light-sensitive paper, which turns blue once developed. She captured the silhouettes of ferns, flowers, feathers, and most famously, algae, self-publishing her prints in Photographs of British Algae in 1843.

Atkins died on the 9th of June, 1871 in Halstead Place, United Kingdom, and is remembered as the first woman photographer.  

Bridget Riley 

Bridget Riley is a British painter and designer who is the most celebrated exponent of the Op art movement. 

She came to prominence in the American Op Art movement of the 1960s, after her inclusion in the 1965 exhibition “The Responsive Eye” at The Museum of Modern Art. There, her black-and-white paintings—which created illusions of movement—were shown alongside works by her male counterparts Victor Vasarely, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Frank Stella, and Ellsworth Kelly, among others. 

Just last year her work was on display here in Edinburgh at the Royal Scottish Academy.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese contemporary artist who works primarily in sculpture and installation but is also active in painting, performance, film, fashion, poetry, fiction, and other arts. 

Born in 1929 in Matsumoto, Japan, Kusama came to attention for her happenings in 1960s New York and a wide-ranging artistic practice that has encompassed installation, painting, sculpture, fashion design and literary writing. Since the 1970s she has lived in Tokyo, where she continues to work prolifically and to international acclaim.

From the 11th of May, Yayoi will have an exhibition on at the Tate  in London. Where you can fully immersive yourself in her outstanding infinity mirror installations that will transport you into Kusama’s unique vision of endless reflections.

 

Mimi Choi

Mimi Choi is a Canadian based professional makeup artist renowned for her unique creative style. In 2014, she ascended to be a viral Instagram sensation with her outstanding illusion makeup skills taking the internet by storm.

Mimi was born in Macau - a former Portuguese colony on the southeast coast of China known for its distinct European and Chinese influences. She immigrated to Canada with her parents in the mid-’90s where she now practices and teaches her craft.

Mimi notes that her inspiration stems from numerous sources. Including patterns and textures from her surroundings, photoshopped digital art, and surreal paintings from classic artists such as Salvador Dali and M.C. Escher. 

Check out more of her work over on her Instagram.

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