No better example of aesthetic photography can be found than the fact that Johnston was chosen a member of the jury for the 1899 Philadelphia Photographic Society exhibit. The Philadelphia show a year earlier had pointed a new direction in photographic standards, a concentration on the “artistic quality of the photograph.” Alfred Stieglitz had been on the jury in 1898, and the show was significant because it “was the first exhibition of photography in American to take place with the active sponsorship of a recognized fine arts institution.” Stieglitz sat on a jury composed of another photographer and three painters. Significantly, the 1899 jury that included Johnston was composed of the five photographers shown in the accompanying tintype.

Jury photograph, Second Philadelphia Salon, 1899. Left to right: Frances Benjamin Johnston, F. Holland Day, Henry Troth, Clarence White, Gertude Käsebier. [LOC: LC-USZ62-45769]

 

Gertrude Käsebier of  New York specialized in portraits and, like Johnston, did work for magazines. She later joined the Photo-Secession, a group of photographers in America founded by Alfred Stieglitz and others, who promoted the idea that photography was a fine art, comparable to painting and other arts. F. Holland Day was an amateur recognized both in the United States and in Europe as an excellent artistic photographer. [In an unheralded effort to make American photograph better known in Europe, in 1900 Day collected 400 photographs, including the work of eighteen women and forty-two men, that were shown in London and Paris at the Photo Club, following Johnston’s exhibit of American women photographers there (Curtis, Ambassadors of Progress, 35). Clarence H. White who still kept his grocers’ job in Newark, Ohio, had been discovered by Stieglitz and also played a founding role in the Photo-Secession movement. Henry Troth was an amateur from Philadelphia and had a one man show at the Camera Club of New York in 1897.

As Jerald C. Maddox of the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress recently pointed out, the 1899 jury was “the first all photographer jury to judge a major photographic exhibition. This was a revolutionary stop that not only suggested that photographers might be esthetically sensitive, but also implied that in the respect they might be the equals of artists in the traditional media.”

Two years later only Johnston was left to represent the artistic photographers as a juror at the Philadelphia show, and in that year the salon lost its prominence. In 1902 the Photo-Secession movement was launched in America with a counterpart in Europe called the Linked Ring. Alfred Stieglitz was the international head of the movement. Believing wholeheartedly in the main goal of encouraging recognition of photography as an art form and in the concept that the photograph could be as intimate and revealing as a painting, Frances Johnston became an associate member of the Photo-Secession in 1904.

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