"WHAT A WOMAN
CAN DO WITH A
FRANCES BENJAMIN JOHNSTON
Frances Benjamin Johnston made her mark on both portraiture
and documentary photography. Like many other early women photographers,
she began her career photographing her family, friends and acquaintances.
She was lucky to have known many of the wealthy elite of her time, however, and was commissioned by magazines to do celebrity portraits. The style of documentary used in her commissioned work for the Hampton Institute would later be adopted by many photographers -- her portraits showed little emotion, depicting her sitters in a straightforward manner.
Johnston studied at the Academie Julian in Paris and the Washington Art Students League. Training in the fine arts was not necessary, though, in order to pursue photography, which was at this time a largely amateur endeavor.
She received her first camera from George Eastman, who was a family friend, and was trained by the director of photography at the Smithsonian Institute.
After photographing on her own and establishing a reputation in the field, she became an advocate of women's involvement in photography.
In 1897 Johnston published an article in The Ladies Home Journal, entitled "What A Woman Can Do With A Camera." The article, in a rather condescending tone, details how (some) women are well suited to photography and goes on to explain the necessary training involved, what areas are appropriate for women, and how to establish and run a studio. (Left: Frances Benjamin Johnston, Untitled, no date.)
All images are copyright by the artist or by UC Regents, 1999, all rights reserved.