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The Women of Photography

Wrapping up Women's History Month, we would like to share with you some of the history of women in photography and how these women have impacted us.

Photo of Constance taken by her husband.

Women Impacting History

In the early days of photography not many women were credited in the development of photography. For many photography pioneers, their wives would help with the printing and photographing.

  • Constance Fox Talbot (1811-1880), wife of photographer Henry Fox Talbot, is considered the first woman to take a photograph.

Photo of Julia taken by her husband.

As portrait photography became a profession, women in the 1800’s made up 20% of professionals and even had roles at studios including “lady operators,” as women and children found it more comfortable to have women assist in posing as it involved physical contact.

  • Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) quickly became a professional by selling her prints to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Migrant Mother, taken by Dorothea Lange

While the portrait field of photography found room for lady operators, photojournalism was primarily a male-dominated field, as women were not allowed to follow into the battlefield. During the first world war, 1914-1918, women began capturing what was going on at home, then, against tradition, began stepping onto the battlefield.

  • Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) took the famous Migrant Mother photo during the Great Depression, which helped her win the Guggenheim fellowship in 1941, becoming the first woman to do so. She went on to photograph during WWII, more specifically Japanese Internment, which she was highly opposed to.

Ansel and Virginia on their wedding day.

Virginia Best Adams

"Ansel Adams' wife, Virginia Best Adams was definitely the woman who kept the legend alive. A bit camera shy and according to an article in the LA Times, 'not generally at ease with reporters,' she once summed up her contribution by saying simply, 'I guess I’m the one who just tried to keep things going.'

In the process of running the family business, Virginia helped give her husband the wherewithal for him to do his photographic work. Virginia and Ansel wanted to sell high quality merchandise rather than stocking cheap curios as Yosemite souvenirs. It was through this new business model that the gallery began selling a series of Ansel Adams photographs called “special edition prints.” Sales of these prints, as well as profits from Southwestern jewelry, handcrafts, rugs and ceramics, provided a steady income so that Ansel might travel to pursue his photography. Virginia accompanied Ansel on a good deal of his travels, especially traveling to the Southwest to establish lasting partnerships with Indian traders and artisans whose work she represented and sold."