Friday, August 10, 2018

Wild Women Photographers of the West

By Jacqui Nelson

I'm excited to become part of the Cowboy Kisses crew and share my first Cowboy Kisses blog with you. One first often goes nicely with another. So today I'm sharing part of the inspiration for the first story I published—lady photographers.

Who were the women who not only recorded history but made history by taking pictures of the famous and the soon-to-be-famous, including themselves? 

Self-taught or with the direct help of inventors like George Eastman (creator of the Eastman Kodak camera) these women all had two things in common—they took chances and lots of photos.

Gertrude Stanton K√§sebier 

(born 1852 in Des Moines, Iowa) 

In 1895, with her husband ill and her finances strained, Gertrude decided to be a professional photographer. Two years later as the assistant to a Brooklyn portrait photographer, she exhibited 150 photographs.

In 1898, after watching Buffalo Bill’s Wild West troupe parade past her Fifth Avenue studio to Madison Square Garden, she asked to photograph the Sioux traveling with the show. Out of respect for the Native American culture, her images were never used in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West program booklets or promotional posters.

Belle Johnson 

(born 1864 in Mendota, Illinois) 

In 1890 while spending the summer with her sister in Missouri, Belle answered a newspaper ad for a photography assistant.

After three weeks on the job, she bought the studio, with the understanding that the previous owner would stay for a year to teach her the trade. He stayed six months and provided little instruction.

Described as "eccentric, independent and unorthodox," Belle learned primarily from photography magazines.

Evelyn Flower Cameron 

(born 1868 near Streatham, England)

In 1891, Evelyn immigrated with her husband and brother, Alec, to Montana. While raising cattle and polo ponies, she learned photography from boarders at her ranch house. She photographed wildlife, weddings, and families like her cowgirl neighbors May, Myrtle, and Mabel Buckley.

The beautiful and talented Buckley sisters gained international fame after Evelyn submitted their photos and an article to the English publication Country Life. The Buckleys were begged to join Wild West shows but they chose to keep working as cowgirls on their ranch.

Frances Benjamin Johnston 

(born 1864 in Grafton, West Virginia)

Frances' first camera was given to her by George Eastman, a close friend of her family and the inventor of the new and lighter Eastman Kodak camera. She received training in photography and darkroom techniques from Thomas Smillie, director of photography at the Smithsonian.

She took portraits of Susan B. Anthony, Mark Twain, President Roosevelt and his family, and Booker T. Washington but was most famous for her 1896 “New Woman” self-portrait with a beer stein in her hand and her petticoats showing.

Adella Willows 

(born to create havoc, one photograph at a time, during a railroad race in my novella, Adella's Enemy

Who is Adella? 

During the War Between the States Adella was a spy, but in 1870 she's a photographer hired by a senator to sabotage the construction of a rival's railroad. She's also a devoted sister willing to take every chance to fulfill her own mission. Then she meets the railroad's foreman, Cormac McGrady, an Irishman who creates his own havoc—in Adella's heart.

An Excerpt from Adella's Enemy...

Cormac closed his eyes and pressed his fingertips to his eyelids. “Do you even know how to operate that camera or is that a sham as well?”

“Of course I know how,” Adella said, forcing outrage into her voice. “I’m a photographer sent by the Atlanta Intelligencer.”

Cormac snorted. “If that were true, you’d be with the farm widows instead of hiding inside Stevens' private railcar. There’s only one reason for being in here—you’re a spy for the Joy Line.” He grasped her elbow, making her skin tingle as he pushed her in front of him toward the door. He tucked her behind him, though, when he stuck his head outside.

Pressed against the warm strength of his back, she tried to block out the anger vibrating in him. But the women's singing reminded her that her next move would probably make him even angrier.

He pulled her down the stairs toward the women. “I wondered why you’d come to New Chicago. I could never have guessed this.”

“Then be prepared for even greater disappointments.” She dug her heels into the dirt. “What if I refuse to act out this useless charade of taking a picture that will—how did you put it?—never see the light of day?”

Swinging around, Cormac towered over her. “Adella, if you don’t cooperate, I can’t protect those women or you.”

A peculiar ache invaded her heart. What would it feel like to share her burdens with someone like Cormac instead of shouldering them alone? She wouldn’t be sharing; she’d be giving up. Her brother deserved more than that.

She yearned to wrap her arms around Cormac and pull him even closer. So she drew back instead. “By all means save the widows. But I don’t need help.”

~ * ~

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Shereen Vedam said...

What amazing women. Thanks for bringing them to life again for us, Jacqui. Love your Adella, too. She fits right in.

Alice V said...

Great blog, Jacqui. I've used a lady photographer in my book, "Her One True Love" as well. I used Victoria's own famous photographer, Hannah Maynard, for my research. Love those ladies who step outside the approved pattern.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Really interesting post. I've never researched women photographers of the old west. Thanks for sharing and your book sounds awesome! Welcome to Cowboy Kisses.

Jacqui Nelson said...

Oh my, I'm very late in replying to your comments. Thank you for posting them. Shereen, wonderful to hear you loved my Adella. Alice, I loved your lady photographer from "Her One True Love"! Kristy, thank you for saying my book sounds awesome. Very happy to be here on Cowboy Kisses with you and everyone!