The Frances Benjamin Johnston Exhibit

In the early 1970s, Pete Daniel and Raymond Smock stumbled upon a collection of Frances Benjamin Johnston's photographs at the Library of Congress. They published several images along with insightful commentary in A Talent for Detail: The Photographs of Miss Frances Benjamin Johnston 1889–1910 (1974). The first significant study of Johnston, the book remained the only monograph highlighting her life and work for almost thirty years. As late as 2001, one scholar claimed that with minor exceptions, most accounts of Johnston were largely derivative of this study.1

Clio Visualizing History is grateful to Dr. Smock for facilitating this exhibit, and to both authors for granting permission to republish text from Chapter One, “Photobiography.” The images accompanying the text are not necessarily presented in the same order or manner as they appear in A Talent for Detail; they have been selected specifically for this online exhibit format. In addition, some captions have been edited.

1 Karen Bearor, review of The Woman Behind the Lens: The Life and Work of Frances Benjamin Johnston 1864-1953, in NWSA Journal 13:2 (Summer 2001).



By Lola Van Wagenen

By 1900 Frances Benjamin Johnston had made a name for herself. At the age of thirty-six, she had photographed a diverse sample of Americana—from politicians to mine workers, socialites to factory women, public institutions to humble cottages. And she was making a living. Continue reading


A Talent for Detail:
The Photographs of Miss Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1889-1910

By Pete Daniel and Raymond Smock


Articles by Frances Benjamin Johnston

More Sources about Francis Benjamin Johnston

Laura Wexler, “Black and White and Color: American Photographs at the Turn of the Century.” [PDF, 7Mb] Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies, 13 (1988): 341-390.

Wexler examines the intersection of race (American Indians as well as African Americans) and gender. She teases out the meaning behind the rhetoric of composition in Johnston's photographs of the Hampton Institute and the Washington D.C. public schools.

Gillian Greenhill Hannum, “Frances Benjamin Johnston: Promoting Women Photographers in The Ladies' Home Journal.” [PDF, 3.4Mb] Nineteenth Century, vol. 24, no. 2 (Fall 2004), 22-29.  Reprint courtesy of Nineteenth Century, the Magazine of the Victorian Society in America.

Hannum explores the way that Johnston positioned herself as a role model and mentor to a new generation of woman photographers through the use of international photography exhibitions and her series of articles in the Ladies' Home Journal.

Anne Raver, "Capturing the Gardens of America." The New York Times, April 11, 2012. Raver reviews the online exhibit at the Library of Congress (see below) of Johnston's hand-colored glass-plate lantern slides.

Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection, Library of Congress. Gardens and Historic Houses. This is an exhibit of Johnston's later work in landscape and architectural photography.

The photographs included in this Clio online exhibit are held by the Library of Congress (LOC) and represent only a small sample of the diversity and scope of Johnston’s work.  A Talent for Detail: The Photographs of Miss Frances Benjamin Johnston 1889-1910 includes 179 images. To view a larger version, click on the image.

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