Images of Home Life PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKS

Article excerpt

GERTRUDE KASEBIER (1852-1934) was not only an esteemed portrait photographer in New York City at the turn of the century, she was also influential in international art circles. A colleague of the dynamic photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and a founding member of the period's major photography association, the Photo-Secession, Kasebier exhibited widely in the United States and Europe.

How is it, then, that her images and her prominence were all but forgotten until the 1970s, when the women's movement rediscovered them? There is no simple answer. It may be that her style exhausted itself through familiarity. Then, too, rumbles of war in Europe reoriented Americans away from the tranquil, meditative pictures she made. Certainly her reputation diminished in the post-World War I period, when photography became associated with derring-do.

Barbara Michael's new study, Gertrude Kasebier: The Photographer and Her Photographs (Harry N. Abrams, 208 pp., 120 photographs, $45), the first book ever written on Kasebier, analyzes the ebb and flow of the photographer's career from multiple perspectives. Kasebier emerges as the epitome of the era's "new woman" - cerebral, ambitious, successful.

Though women had been involved in photography from its beginning, the period from about 1880 to World War I favored the medium as a vocation for women. Almost every sizeable community had women who photographed for pleasure or for profit. What is unusual about Kasebier is not that she made photographs, but that she achieved prominence in photography's highest circles.

Kasebier practiced a photography known to its admirers as pictorialism and to its detractors as "phuzzygraphy." These soft-focus, lyrical images frequently featured women and children. …