Frances Benjamin Johnston

Frances Benjamin Johnston’s meteoric rise to prominence as one of America’s first and foremost women photographers was propelled in the beginning by her access to the Washington D.C. elite then sustained by her remarkable energy, entrepreneurial skills, and the sheer diversity of her subjects. As a pioneering photojournalist, she left a remarkable visual record of the early 20th century—one that offers rich opportunities for historical and cultural analysis, as well as studies in race, class and gender.
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The Allen Sisters

The photography of sisters Mary and Frances Allen gained national attention with their inclusion in a series of articles for The Ladies Home Journal in 1901 by Francis Benjamin Johnston. Identified as among “The Foremost Women Photographers in America,” their work reflects a commitment to photography as art—as a medium for capturing gentle beauty and visualizing the past while reflecting the spiritual dimension of the Arts and Crafts movement. How their lives and photography were affected by their growing loss of hearing adds a unique component to exploring their work. Introduction by Naomi Rosenblum.
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Peter Palmquist Gallery

The Peter Palmquist Gallery presents the work of four very early women photographers from California: Abigail E. Cardozo, Emma Olive O’Connor, Nellie Tichnor McGraw, and Elizabeth W. Withington. This work represents a small fraction of the massive photography collection that Peter Palmquist amassed during his lifetime. Peter was a remarkably generous and enthusiastic resource for anyone researching early women photographers. This gallery is dedicated to his memory.

Individuals and nonprofit institutions researching women photographers of any nationality, past and present, or Western American photography before 1900, are eligible to apply for the Peter E. Palmquist Memorial Fund for Historical Photographic Research.
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Photography is the great divide in the development of visual history. Images captured through a lens shape and alter perceptions of historical memory; they can provide both authentic insights and misleading notions of the past. With the introduction of the camera in 1839, photographers and critics began endless debates over what photography is or is not, or should be. Early arguments over whether photography was art or science gave way to far more complex debates as the uses of photography multiplied in response to technological innovations and social and cultural changes. Some photographers saw the camera as a device for capturing reality, others as a means for creative expression, and many saw it as a tool for commerce. In fact, photography proved to be all of these.

Photographers and critics today discuss complex issues surrounding the ethics of photography, while historians and other scholars increasingly discuss visual literacy and interpretation. These exhibits are the starting point of our interest in the challenges that photographic images present historians, students, and the general public. They are the result of our interest in photography as a key element of visual history and the research for our film Catching the Shadow: America's First Women Photographers. As our exhibits grow, we plan to include such discussions and analysis, either as links, bibliographies, or text. We welcome any thoughts, criticisms or suggestions.