Frances Benjamin Johnston







Frances "Fannie" Benjamin Johnston (15 January 1864 – 16 May 1952) was one of the earliest American female photographers and photojournalists.

She took portraits of friends, family and local figures before working as a freelance photographer and touring Europe in the 1890s, using her connection to Smillie to visit prominent photographers and gather items for the museum's collections. She gained further practical experience in her craft by working for the newly formed Eastman Kodak company in Washington D.C. forwarding film for development and advising customers when cameras needed repairs. She opened her own photographic studio in Washington D.C. in 1895, taking portraits of many famous contemporaries including Susan B. Anthony, Mark Twain and Booker T. Washington. She photographed Admiral Dewey on the deck of the USS Olympia, the Roosevelt children playing with their pet pony at the White House and the gardens of Edith Wharton's famous villa near Paris.
Johnston also photographed the famous American heiress and literary salon socialite Natalie Barney in Paris but perhaps her most famous work, shown opposite, is her self portrait of the liberated 'New Woman', petticoats showing and beer stein in hand. Johnston was a constant advocate for the role of women in the burgeoning art of photography. She traveled widely in her thirties, taking a wide range of documentary and artistic photographs of coal miners, iron workers, women in New England's mills and sailors being tattooed on board ship as well as her society commissions.
She photographed events such as world's fairs and peace-treaty signings and took the last portrait of President William McKinley, at the Pan American Exposition of 1901 just before his assassination. 
 In the 1920s she became increasingly interested in photographing architecture, motivated by a desire to document buildings and gardens which were falling into disrepair or about to be redeveloped and lost. Her photographs remain an important resource for modern architects, historians and conservationists. She exhibited a series of 247 photographs ofFredericksburg, Virginia, from the decaying mansions of the rich to the shacks of the poor, in 1928. The exhibit was titled "Pictorial Survey--Old Fredericksburg, Virginia--Old Falmouth and Nearby Places" and described as "A Series of Photographic Studies of the Architecture of the Region Dating by Tradition from Colonial Times to Circa 1830" as "An Historical Record and to Preserve Something of the Atmosphere of An Old Virginia Town."




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