Posted in Miscellany

IWD: History of Photography

I was delighted to find Frances Benjamin Johnston’s portrait of Gertrude Kasebier, both of them successful photographers in the late 19th and early 20th C. They were both conventional in some respects, unconventional in others.

Johnston, a lesbian, was published by The Ladies Home Journal. She came from a wealthy family and hob-nobbed with the notables of her time, taking portraits of great men and great architecture. As an established photographer, she advocated for other women in photography. Kasebier was a middle class woman who, despite some sweet Julia Margaret Cameron type early photos, portrayed marriage darkly, ironically. She photographed Native Americans as individuals, rather than icons. And she fought with Alfred Stieglitz over the right to earn a living with her camera.

Kasebier gave up photography at the age of 79, but Johnston tirelessly kept taking pictures right up until her death at the age of 88. Her self-portrait (here) is one of my favourite photographs.

Gertrude Kasebier, photo taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston 1907


Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

3 thoughts on “IWD: History of Photography

  1. I have a particular interest in women photographers. It seems to require a certain character that sits ill with conventional femininity and the results are always most intriguing. Eve Arnold, Dorothea Lange, Cindy Sherman and Diane Arbus are the ones I’ve read about (and would like to pursue those studies further). For instance, Eve Arnold had a 12 year old son unhappily in boarding school while she roamed the world taking photos and she arranged to ring him at 5pm every day, despite time zone differences and the difficulties of even getting to a phone or finding an international line in those day and those parts of the world.

  2. The barriers to women in photography are interesting to me. I suppose because photography is, in many ways, about “access” to a subject, which grants a certain measure of power, so I can see why there was this desire to keep women from that position.

    The photo you’ve posted is excellent!

    1. I’m interested in them as well. The 19th c women photographers, like the travellers, were an interesting and intrepid bunch, and yet also varied in background and outlook.

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