American Women Photographers: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography

By Martha Kreisel | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Women have been involved in the professional, amateur, and artistic progress of photography for a over a century. In the early years they served as photographic assistants in their husband's studios. Upon a husband's death, the wife often assumed control of the business as a way of supporting herself. Since equipment was heavy and awkward to transport, many of the women stayed in the studio. They would often specialize in portraiture of women and children, allowable subjects for women to pursue.

By the 1880s as innovations by George Eastman and Kodak made the camera easier to handle, photography became accessible to everyone. The marketing strategy for the Kodak Brownie reached a new audience of women, giving them a lightweight, inexpensive camera on which to record their children and their surroundings. This respectable and genteel hobby allowed women to photograph scenes around the home, providing us with documentation of domestic life in the late 1890s. At around the same time, women such as Gertrude Käsebier and Adelaide Hanscom Leeson, members of the Photo-secessionist Movement, sought the promotion of photography as a true art form. In both ways, women have made significant contributions to photographic history.

The early advances and interest in photography also opened up areas for professionals photographers: Frances Benjamin Johnston photographed numerous historic homes in North Carolina and made her classic studies of the education of African-American children at the Hampton Institute; Gertrude Käsebier was known for her portraiture; Myra Albert Wiggins professionally photographed life in the Northwest, and Jesse Tarbox Beals was considered one of the first women news photographers for taking photographs of the 1904 World's Fair.

Women like Alice Austen chronicled 19th-century life on Staten Island, New York, and Evelyn Cameron turned her camera to life in late 19th-century Montana. For an extensive treatment of photographers of the 19th-century consult C. Jane Gover's The Positive Image: Women Photographers in Turn of the Century America (see entry 1022).

-vii-

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