A Talent for Detail:

The Photography of Miss Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1889–1910

by Pete Daniel and Raymond Smock


In 1897 Frances Benjamin Johnston wrote an article for the Ladies Home Journal entitled “What a Woman Can Do with a Camera” advising women how to become photographers. Probably revealing her self-concept more than offering advice, she stated, “The woman who makes photography profitable must have, as to personal qualities, good common sense, unlimited patience to carry her through endless failures, equally unlimited tact, good taste, a quick eye, a talent for detail, and a genius for hard work.” Johnston personified all these qualities, but “a talent for detail” became her trademark.

Johnston’s sharp eye often transformed photographs into symbolic documents. Many of her group poses can actually be cropped into a number of perfectly composed smaller studies.

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