Presented To Him By The Photographic Society of Great Britain”, The Illustrated London News, vol. 90, 2494, 5 Feb. 1887, p. 146.
Figure 1: “Bust of Mr. James Glaisher, F.R.S.
Delivering a speech to the Photographic Society of London in 1887, long-time president James Glaisher [Figure 1] recalled that in the early days, “a number of ladies were always present, and well I recollect a Mrs. Spottiswoode, a lady of highly cultivated mind, and artistic feeling, used to give valuable criticisms upon the pictures”.1 Glaisher may have felt wistful on this occasion, a banquet during which he accepted a marble bust of himself commissioned by the Photographic Society. Over the course of Glaisher’s thirty-three years in the Society, he had witnessed not only the disappearance of Mrs. Spottiswoode and other early women amateurs, but, concurrently, the rhetorical triumph of a Victorian doctrine of “separate spheres”.2 It had taken thirty years of discursive labor – undertaken by the Photographic Society and other early clubs – to gender photography as “masculine”. Although the masculinity of photographic societies would be challenged in the period after Glaisher’s tenure, notably by new amateur clubs and the leadership of women photographers in the United States, he nevertheless felt moved to lament his colleagues’ seemingly hardened preference for all-male meetings.
Despite photography’s unbounded novelty in the nineteenth century, it followed the pattern of other arts and sciences in the Europe and America during the period – that is, institutionalization by male champions. Early photography’s freedom from academic, professional, or state control, while allowing women to take up the new art in amateur and professional roles, did not prevent a masculine monopoly over its leadership, precisely as was found in state-sponsored painting, geography, or science (e.g., the Royal Society). Why did such a new craft follow the old pattern, even as a leisure pursuit? More broadly, why was it so important for these male champions of photography to have all-male assemblies? This article draws upon early issues of photographic journals and other photo-related publications to shed light on these questions. Using systematic keyword searches within digital runs of nineteenth-century French, British, and American publications, and close readings of the debut volumes of early journals (where photographic society members spelled out their goals and rules), the present writer discerned trends in the gendered language surrounding photographic practice in general and female practitioners in particular.3
The Photographic Society as a Masculine Republic
Several generations of historians have illuminated the troubled doctrine of “separate spheres” that so marked nineteenth-century western Europe and America.4 Anthropologists, too, have grappled with the phenomenon of the sexes’ occupational and recreational segregation, whether it be mutual, partial, or enforced with violence.5 Following anthropological lines of thought, the question at hand may be as follows: In order to become men, why do males banish the presence of women from their rites and rituals? Anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists have all observed a “tendency of men to feel more at ease in other men’s company”, or in other words, “male homosociability” across cultures globally.6 Men’s and women’s groups form spaces and rituals where the work of gender identification and norming takes place.7 In all-male sub-groups, anthropologist Mary Douglas observed what she termed a “Delilah Complex”, in which residual (primitive) fears of feminine pollution threatened male strength, virility, and superiority.8 The distinguished men of the Victorian photographic societies likely would have scoffed at such a diagnosis, but Douglas insisted that ethnographic study of pollution and taboo around the globe can illuminate behaviors in the so-called civilized world. Notions of purity and pollution aptly apply to early photographic discourse, with its discussions of staining chemicals as well as “pure photography” as something untainted by darkroom or workroom manipulations.
Feminist historians, too, have shown that sex-segregation has not simply been the innocent division of labor (or leisure) in complex societies. It has also allowed patriarchal societies to concentrate resources, honors, and power in the spaces allocated for men.9 Since the end of the eighteenth century, in the context of political and industrial revolutions, making learned and voluntary societies into gentlemen’s private clubs was a key adaptation in that power process. The gendering of certain spaces, in conjunction with the post-revolutionary “sexual contract” between husbands and wives10, and the doctrine of separate spheres, would teach many (never all) women with scientific or artistic talents to keep their productivity “private” and thereby unacknowledged in the historical record.
In tandem with this gendering of learned spaces in the nineteenth century was the continued reinforcement of fine art and science as “masculine”, both in discourse and professional practice (art schools and national institutes, for example, remained closed to women until the 1890s). Scholars have shown the importance of such gendering work taking place in Europe since the Renaissance.11 Nineteenth-century photographic discourse played a powerful role in furthering that work because it combined aspirational tropes of science and fine art. The social ascent of the ‘man of science’ began early during the Industrial Revolution, according to historian Christine MacLeod. Although MacLeod framed her arguments around class and nation rather than gender, her discussion of a “new Prometheus” in industrializing Britain (that is, the figure of the inventor) implied that this modern figure of the innovator would be male.12 Early photographic journals in Britain, France, and the United States revealed male photographers as determined to be included in this ascendant, honorable class of scientists and savants.
In the eyes of some well-meaning European and American observers13, photography – as yet excluded from academic status – seemed friendly to “feminine” talent and industriousness. Some early observers recommended photography to women as a supposed “minor” art, like embroidery or sketching, requiring no “manly” genius, as a wholesome activity they could perform in the home. Later, with the dry plate and roll film technology, amateur photography became an ‘appropriate’ hobby for women and especially mothers.14. This creeping “femininity” (i.e., low status) in the last quarter of the century caused the fraternity of camera enthusiasts and professionals to double down on the medium’s complex, scientific, and artistic nature, supposedly the purview of men.
One of the most important techniques for asserting photography’s seriousness, both as a gentlemanly science and a professional pursuit, was the establishment of strict rules and hierarchies in the early photographic societies. Male enthusiasts together established constitutional republics in miniature, complete with elected governments and detailed statutory rules. A paradox developed in France and Britain wherein voluntary associations like photographic societies vowed not to dabble in politics (in France under Napoleon III, for example, such vows were required for operation), and yet such societies gave their male members practice in procedural republicanism. Republicanism, not democracy: Within these photographic republics, the executives, or council members, alone controlled both the agendas of individual meetings and the broader, longer-term priorities of the society. This rule was enforced in the way speech was controlled at meetings, and in the content of the society’s published journal.
The council of the London Photographic Society for example, composed of a president, three vice-presidents, secretary, treasurer, and nineteen other members, ruled “that no communication shall be read unless previously approved of by the Council”.15 In many of the early societies, there was also a hierarchy of membership, as in the French Photographic Society, which elected membres titulaires (full members), membres correspondants (often members at a distance, but in order to become a membre titulaire one had to first be a membre correspondant), and associés amateurs.16 Like the London Photographic Society, the French council controlled agendas, and a second committee under the council, a comité d’administration, controlled the contents of the society’s Bulletin.
Every type of membership required sponsorship by already-elected members in good standing with the society (usually two).17 Without the concerted campaign of a husband, brother, and/or father who was already a member, then, a European or American woman, without a profession, without scientific notoriety, or her own money, was unlikely to get elected to these national photographic societies, which prided themselves on the eminence of their members.18 One might suppose, too, that a woman who depended on a male relative for a chance of entry might have refused the chance for fear of being looked down upon (or condescended to) by “legitimate” members. There was also a secret “blackballing” system with which members could veto the election of a member-candidate.19 The early societies were thus perfectly designed to keep all but a tiny handful of women out. And for the few female members elected to a society, actually appearing at a regular meeting was exceedingly rare before 1900.
Why Women Were Unwelcome at Photographic Society Meetings
In both the nineteenth and twentieth century, “male-dominated social structures/institutions were implicitly defined as if they were gender neutral”.20 Acker added that the invisibility of gender in organizations requires (and required) “ideological formulations that obscure organizational realities, including the pervasiveness of male power”.21 Unlike the proverbial treehouse, then, the sign for “No Girls Allowed” was not always explicitly nailed to the door. Occasionally, though, a photographic society member or writer would be unable to suppress the sentiment and voiced his hostility. A series of letters appearing in The Photographic News in 1889 does much to reveal gender anxieties just at the “tipping point” in European and American women’s early emancipation movement. A letter to the editor, signed “Perplexed”22 although seemingly friendly toward the idea of women’s participation in photographic societies (i.e., he was exposing the behavior of others), laid out many of the fears that haunted the men in these societies.
“Perplexed” wrote of an unnamed photographic society, composed of seventy male members, which had debated the subject of allowing women to become members, with no satisfactory resolution. The author of the letter reproduced the seven objections given by fellow members who had voted against the measure, as follows:
1st. All members are admitted by latchkeys.
2nd. That the rooms are open thus at all hours to members.
3rd. That the dark room is likewise open to all comers.
4th. That smoking is permitted and indulged in by members.
5th. That the privilege existing of allowing members to bring out from their lockers alcoholic refreshments proves another source of objection.
6th. That when lady members were admitted it might by the wives of certain married members be regarded as a club of objectionable character, just below a certain place of entertainment to which women members had free access by latchkeys at all hours.
7th. That jokes of varied kinds would arise, and tend to lower the reputation of the Association as now existing23.
With the risk of the club disintegrating over the matter, “Perplexed” reported that the resolution was shelved by the council. What were the real concerns behind these seven opaque objections? The first three objections (and the sixth objection) point to a problem with the idea of women photographers freely entering and leaving the premises. A woman’s freedom of movement created the possibility of sexual impropriety (an unsupervised darkroom open at all hours).24 The fear of sexual impropriety was also one of the rebuttals against women’s demands for full access to a university education during the same period, which remained an all-male preserve into the twentieth century.25 Perhaps because this provincial photographic society would not have been as elite in its membership as the soon-to-be Royal Photographic Society in London26 (that is, “gentlemanly”), objecting members either did not trust themselves or others in the club to interact with women appropriately.
On the subject of latchkeys, the idea, in itself, of women holding door keys that allowed them to come and go as they pleased rankled their male guardians. An American poem by Harold R. Vynne complained at the end of the century:
Mothers of families would stay out late
And walk queer circles on the parlor floor
When they came home, or noisily berate
Their latchkeys when they wouldn’t open the door.
Mine own sweet wife a fond farewell had said,
And blithely cantered off unto her club,
Leaving poor me to put the babe to bed,
And after that to iron, cook and scrub.27
Vynne’s poem expressed the fear that the freedom given by the latchkey would allow women to neglect their domestic “duties”, in other words the unpaid labor that wives and unmarried daughters provided in exchange for being supported by the man with whom they lived – what we might call the “sexual contract” of nineteenth-century marriage.
Judging from published cartoons, jokes, and stories of the period, if there was one thing that North Atlantic men agreed on, it was their anger at the prospect of having to do such work themselves once female emancipation had arrived (Figure 2).
The man on the left is the husband, the one on the right is a servant. Usually, female servants did the laundry. Cartoons with similar scenarios also appeared in Britain and France throughout the period.
Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.
Figure 2: Lithograph published by Currier & Ives, New York, “The Age of Iron: Man As He Expects To Be” (1869).
The logic of the period, across the North Atlantic, was that as women claimed the “masculine” privileges of public life, men would somehow be forced to take up the domestic slack, which would unman them. This gender anxiety, angry at times, was the flip side of the worshipful praise for the ideal “Angel in the House” as described in Coventry Patmore’s two-volume ode to feminine domesticity.28
Two of the objections aired by “Perplexed” dealt with the desire to smoke and drink alcohol, which during the period were explicitly “masculine” pleasures. As January Arnall noted for the Chicago camera clubs of the period, “It certainly would not have been seemly for an upper or middle-class woman to be in a space with men, booze, and smoke”29. In fact, there were certain regions where the law forbade women from smoking, or barkeeps from serving women30. Just as bourgeois and titled ladies withdrew from the dining room in order to let the men smoke and drink alone (hence the aptly named “drawing room” to which women retired), so the men’s club, whatever type, heightened its “masculinity” in a cloud of smoke and liquor-induced informality (Figure 3).
Although a public hotel, the picture included the relaxed drinking, smoking, and conversation of a nineteenth-century gentleman’s club. The large painting of mythical nudes on the wall reproduces William A. Bouguereau’s, “Nymphs and Satyr”.
Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.
Figure 3: Greyscale rendering of a chromolithograph by H.A. Thomas & Wylie (1890) depicting the bar at the Hoffman House Hotel in New York.
Behind the objectors’ reference to smoking and alcohol was the fear that if women were present, propriety would prevent them from casting their inhibitions aside, which would considerably lessen their enjoyment of the evening.
The sixth and seventh objections implied that the presence of women would sully the tone and reputation of the photographic society. If respectable women stayed at home, so went the logic of the objection, then women who went out at night, and in particular, women unaccompanied by a husband or a father, must be tarts. In a published response, American photographer Catharine Weed Barnes asked if these gentlemen “consider a photographic club a place which cannot be frequented by ladies without loss of self-respect or the respect of others”?31 The objecting faction rather cowardly implied that it was members’ wives, not necessarily themselves, who objected to meetings being open to women. Respectable wives, one is to suppose, would suspect the meeting of being nothing more than an excuse for carousing, resembling an unnamed “place of entertainment” (music hall? brothel?) in the objection.
Beyond the unflattering characterization of women in such a scenario (cast either as tarts or as sexual police), the fear of puerile snickering voiced in the final objection reported by “Perplexed” might strike us today as simply pathetic, rather than as proof of intent to suppress women photographers. But however petty these objections were, and indeed “Perplexed” was arguing they were petty, they voiced deep-seated insecurities that were not unique to one particular English photo club. The effect of these objections—most often unspoken—was to keep women out of photographic society meeting rooms, even when the society constitution said “ladies were eligible” for membership.32
Following “Perplexed,” another anonymous reader wrote to The Photographic News in disgust:
Sir, Being a member of the same Association as ‘Perplexed’...I think it very bad taste on his part to drag this matter into public; I am sure the members have had enough of this in their own debates. Many of the oldest and most interested members of the Association referred to strongly object to this scheme being introduced, and yet its promoter has not the good sense to let the matter drop, but continues to bring it forward, which, I fear, will lead ultimately to the injury, if not dissolution, of the Association.33
Perhaps the reason why the issue was so contentious in this particular photographic society was because many new amateur clubs arose in the 1880s that women were joining with greater confidence that in the past.34 But this “perplexing” controversy was not quite over. A third correspondent, writing under the pseudonym “Nemo”35, concluded:
I hold that a body of gentlemen associated for any purpose whatever have a perfect right to decline to admit ladies without being morally compelled to give any reason for such a declension at all. It is absurd to suppose the contrary.36
With that, the matter was dropped from the pages of the Photographic News. If there were any women photographers who had followed the kerfuffle and wrote to the editor with their opinions, their letters were not published.
Although much conspired to discourage women from joining early photographic societies, and discouraged women members from attending meetings in person, there were certain society events that the male leadership warmly encouraged women to attend as guests. Society councils and ordinary members desired the presence of wives and daughters at annual celebrations and dinners, to which women added sparkle in their finery for the evening. Audiences at annual soirées were routinely addressed as “Ladies and Gentlemen”, the women in the audience more often being guests of members rather than members themselves.
The presence of lady guests became so customary, that when they were missing, the leadership voiced its regret. The president of the Union Nationale des Sociétés Photographiques de France, Jules Janssen, spoke for the group at a branch banquet in Nancy:
We are sorry that a recent bereavement deprives us of the presence of Mme Riston; her presence encouraged the other ladies, and we will return to a tradition that, for my part, I hope will continue: the presence of our dear companions at our banquets.37
The duty of mourning, even late in the century, was one of the many family obligations that made participation in photographic societies more difficult for women in France and elsewhere. Nevertheless, societies in Britain, France, and the United States agreed that members’ wives adorned their social occasions.
Other times when women found welcome at the photographic society was as audience members during lantern lectures (i.e., Victorian slideshow technology) or during special outings. A contingent of the South London Photographic Society, for example, reported on a photographic picnic in the countryside, undertaken in April of 1860. Unlike such excursions after 1890 when women amateurs, encouraged by Kodak advertisements, joined men as members on an equal basis to photograph the picturesque outdoors38, in 1860 it was understood that women friends served a strictly ornamental purpose. The reporter depicted the female excursionists as totally uninterested in photography, even exasperated by it, “and their pretty lips pouted at the idea of photography in connection with a pic-nic”.39 Like the rustics whom the party encountered on the excursion, the women’s only contribution to the camera work during the trip was to spoil exposed plates by walking in front of the lens at the wrong moment.
The rhetorical impact of such a tale affirmed the gendering of photography as “masculine” (e.g., serious, technical, requiring physical stamina), and sent the message to female readers (for there were a good number)40 that their interest in photography might be “unfeminine” in comparison to the “ladies” who supposedly disdained the camera. “Masculine” institutions “encouraged a more passive, ‘feminine’ role as consumers of the products of photography” for women.41 By and large, photographic societies welcomed women in three types of scenarios: as beauty objects to be admired on social occasions – sessions of real scientific discussion were purged of women and femininity; in statu pupillari at open lectures or exhibitions – a role that mirrored the pupil-master dynamic of the ideal Victorian marriage; and as paying clients of the photographers’ service – as studio customers, the target market for manufactured albums, jewelry, and trinkets advertised in the photographic magazines of the period. More broadly speaking, most men expected women to be the consumers rather than producers of photographic knowledge or photographs themselves.
The Silence of Early Women Photographers
Literature from the second half of the nineteenth century and gender analysis in the social sciences shed light on the reasons why early women members either did not attend photography club meetings or attended in silence. French gender historian Judith Stone summarized the “gendered republic” as one where women “would provide an ever-present generative support system for man’s heroic activities” in social or political life, the equivalent of the Angel of the House in Victorian England or the True Woman in the United States.42 Femininity, as defined during the period, demanded self-effacement from women, not insistent voices prepared for the rough-and-tumble world of scientific debate. Even for women gutsy enough to assert themselves as camera devotees by joining early photographic societies, the printed evidence indicates they did not participate in the discussions at monthly meetings.
What happened on the rare occasion when an early woman photographer dared to speak at a photographic society meeting? If the meeting notes in early photographic journals are an indication, such a thing never occurred before 1890 in the metropoles, despite the existence of successful amateur and professional women workers in Europe, Britain, and America. One occurrence in 1869, however, provides an intriguing counter-example. Whether by writing a request from her home on the Isle of Wight, or through the good offices of friends, or both, Julia Margaret Cameron managed to get on the agenda of a London Photographic Society meeting, of which she was a paying member, in May of 1869. Knowing beforehand of Mrs. Cameron’s visit, the chairman at the meeting, James Glaisher, “remarked that he had often regretted that ladies so seldom attended the meetings of the Society. He was glad to see that two ladies were present; and one of them, Mrs. Cameron, wished to say a few words to members.”43 Cameron’s presentation, soliciting advice from fellow members concerning the appearance of cracks in her glass negatives, surely had an extraordinary effect on the room. Never before, and never again until the 1890s (and then rarely) had a female member of the Society held the floor during a meeting.44
Cameron’s appearance seemed to justify the perennial epithet – “eccentric” – that writers used for her then and even now.45 What made Cameron eccentric was her refusal to acquiesce to the “masculine” gendering of the photographic society, or the medium writ large. During her short career as a photographic artist, Cameron regularly submitted her pictures for display at European exhibitions, brushing off fellow photographers’ negative criticism by saying that it “would have dispirited me very much had I not valued that criticism at its worth”.46 Cameron paid more attention to her reception by art critics, which was more positive. For a technical problem, however, she knew the photographic society was the perfect place to turn, and at least seven men at the springtime meeting offered Cameron diagnoses of her problem, as recorded in the Society’s journal. They ascribed the cracks to her collodion mixture, her varnish, the moist climate at Freshwater (her home on the Isle of Wight), and other possible factors. Chairman Glaisher, diligently moving the agenda along, thanked Cameron, and then introduced the next speaker, Captain E. D. Lyon, who would read a paper on “Photography in India”.47 Lyon’s subject would have interested Cameron, who was born in India, and whose last photographs would be made a few years later in Ceylon.
Cameron’s brief appearance that evening in the London Society’s rooms on Conduit Street provokes several questions. What did the masculine gathering make of this middle-aged woman who dared to think she might contribute to the production of new knowledge – the lofty purpose of Victorian Britain’s galaxy of learned societies? Who was the second woman with Cameron mentioned by Glaisher, and did Cameron’s boldness give the mystery woman more confidence to speak on other occasions? The Society’s monthly journal does not provide an answer. Having managed to get on the meeting’s agenda, and perhaps knowing that Captain Lyon’s five albums of negatives from southern India would be shown, Cameron felt it worth her while to travel to London from her home, a distance of about one hundred miles, requiring transport by horse, train, and a boat. Cameron’s sister, Sara Prinsep, lived in Kensington so she may have visited or stayed with Sara on this occasion. If Cameron attended another Society meeting, her presence was not recorded.
Judging from the years that immediately followed the 1869 incident, Mrs. Cameron’s visit could not be said to have inaugurated a woman’s caucus in the Society, Glaisher’s passing encouragement notwithstanding. If photography and, more explicitly, photographic societies were to be construction sites for nineteenth-century masculinity – a technologically adept masculinity that could unify a modest range of social classes (business owners, experimental scientists, aristocratic dilettantes, military men), while providing an arena for civilized debate, then “femininity”, it seems, had no place in these meeting rooms. Until the arrival of the more confident New Woman in the 1890s, Cameron (herself uninterested in the woman’s rights movement taking place in England or the fight for suffrage) was the exception that proved the rule. The photographic society continued as a masculine space.
A more practical obstacle blocking women photographers was what sociologist Joan Acker has termed “the time patterns of men”. Acker discussed gender expectations within trade unions as recently as 1999:
Meetings that occur after work when many women need to be at home cooking and caring for children, expectations that union activists will be available to go to weekend workshops far from home, and negotiation sessions that last long into the night are all problematic practices for women with families.48
Admittedly, the class makeup of early photographic societies was different from that of trade unions, but the difficulties of women alluded to were similar, so Acker’s description is thought-provoking. Victorian women’s domestic duties did not leave them free to commit to participating in organizations whose meetings were scheduled for men’s convenience at night – a time of day that respectable women on either side of the Atlantic did not go out in alone, even if they were free.
Even middle-class women who commanded the labor of servants (in terms of cooking, for example) nevertheless had childcare, sick-nurse duties, and obligations toward extended family that made participation impractical. As with trade unions during the period, the photographic society “was constructed on the presumption that members were nonmothers”.49 But even in cases where servants freed women from evening tasks, their families likely would have been shocked if they went out alone at night. As we will see below, the idea of women participating in recreational associations, especially at night, provoked the disapproval of observers and family, so that, unless the meeting was devoted to service for others (e.g., children, the poor, the Church), single and married women were supposed to feel guilty for such indulgences. So, although North Atlantic women’s growing desire for inclusion ensured that a certain number of “Miss” and “Mrs.” appeared on the rolls of photo club membership from the 1860s to the 1890s, being members did not empower women to participate in regular monthly meetings until after 1890.50
Photography in the Private (Unpublicized) Sphere
The picture of early photographic societies that emerges, then, is one characterized by exclusion, condescension, or chauvinism if not misogyny. But if we turn our eyes from the printed narrative, the story gets more complicated than that. Margot Horwitz has explained that nearly a century before women’s liberation in the mid-twentieth century, “some husbands were understanding of their wives’ need for self-expression”.51 Away from the public proceedings of the chartered societies, in the intimacy of the home studio and darkroom, many a young woman received her first lessons in photography from fathers, uncles, or husbands who loved them, and who had every confidence in their abilities. The English Anna Atkins (1799-1871) and the American Emma Sewall (1836-1919) both had fathers who were scientists, who encouraged their daughters to learn photography with them.52 Contemporaries Julia Margaret Cameron and Clementina Hawarden both had husbands who either encouraged their wives or blessed their activities with benign neglect. Cameron praised her husband, Charles, in her autobiography:
My Husband from first to last has watched every picture with delight & it is my daily habit to run to him…with every glass upon which a fresh glory is…newly stamped & to listen to his enthusiastic applause. This habit of running into the dining room with my wet pictures has stained such an immense quantity of Table linen with Nitrate of Silver indelible Stains that I should have been banished from any less indulgent household.53
Charles Cameron patiently posed for his artist-wife on several occasions, even playing King Lear in one of Cameron’s literary compositions (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Julia M. Cameron, “King Lear Allotting His Kingdom to His Three Daughters” (1872).
Across the Atlantic, Staten Island photographer Alice Austen (1866-1952) likewise benefited from a supportive family. Austen learned the art of photography from two generous uncles who provided her with her first camera, instruction, and even built her a darkroom at the family home, Clear Comfort. For Austen, who never married, support from extended family allowed her to wave off the disapproval of others in their social circle.54 The young men of Staten Island (frustrated suitors?) referred to Austen and her female friends as “the Darned Club,” but such teasing did not deter the photographer or her models.55
A French contemporary of Austen, Jenny de Vasson (1872-1920), had an artistic father and encouragement from a family friend, the painter Bernard Naudin.56 A sort of provincial Lartigue57, de Vasson photographed family, friends, farmers, and even soldiers departing for the front in 1914. Her biographers likened her also to the German portraitist August Sander, saying that although she was never recognized as a photographer during her short lifetime, she possessed “a talent infinitely superior to many professionals” of her day.58 There were also occasions on both sides of the Atlantic when a wife, having taken up the camera profession or the hobby, taught the husband the secrets of the darkroom, rather than the other way around.59 The exchange of photographic knowledge did not flow only one way.
While at the institutional level, photographic societies ignored female potential so as to strengthen their “masculine” identity, at the personal level men and women sometimes worked together, whether in business in the family-owned studio, or for pleasure. Unfortunately, the sisters and wives who restricted their work and their opinions to the private sphere forfeited their places in the historical record. Women’s compliance with the taboo against female publicity—a taboo that most women were repeatedly warned against at home, school, and church—led both to their future invisibility, and to a tenacious imbalance in the historiography of the medium. Future historians of photography could help correct this imbalance by revealing in greater detail how family members learned and practiced early photography together.