The Female Photographers in Old NYC

The Female Photographers in Old NYC

Step into the studio of a 19th-century female photographer in old NYC!

  • Take a virtual tour of a 19th-century photographic studio – a mysterious place that was equal parts creative, technical and commercial – and survey the vintage cameras, backdrops and props, parlors that doubled as gallery spaces, and dressing rooms for women and men – separate of course – to prepare for their portraits to be taken.
  • Reconstruct the studio of one of New York City’s numerous — if still unsung– women photographers. There is hardly a place on the globe where you can visit an original photographic studio from the 1860s and 1870s. There have been a few reconstructions, but predictably NONE relate to female photographers.
  • Learn about puffers, hand coloring, and the arranging of hair or clothing to enhance the sitter’s appearance. Although 19th-century photographers were touted for their brutal honesty, the studio operator had a few tricks of deception up her sleeve.
  • Are you a collector of old photographs or have you inherited a family album? We delve into the marks, inscriptions and other details visible on the picture that help tell us who took it and when.
  • Peak into the backroom to reveal the secrets of the darkroom and the many young woman who worked behind the scenes printing and mounting the images in this fast-growing industry.

About this Talk:

Imagine yourself back in the 1860s. You want to have your portrait taken and hope to avoid the city’s famous and expensive (male) photographers. So you seek out some of the female photographers that friends have mentioned: the studio of Matilda Moore on Canal Street, Mrs. Wolf in Brooklyn, and many others listed in the New York City Directory. This illustrated presentation recreates a visit to a few of the hundreds of largely unrecognized woman photographers who worked in New York and in cities across the United States in those early days of the medium. We follow each stage of the experience: arriving in the waiting room, being arranged in the posing chair, being “shot” by Matilda Moore operating the old box camera, obtaining the final images and inserting them in the family album.

About Katherine Manthorne:

Katherine Manthorne is on the Art History faculty of the Graduate Center of City University of New York. Prior to that she was Director of the Research Center at Smithsonian’s American Art Museum. Researching American visual culture, she saw a need to highlight the role of women. Her book Film and Modern American Art: The Dialogue between Cinema and Painting (Routledge, available in paperback, 2020) featured women of the silent movie era. Two new books continue that focus including Restless Enterprise: The Art and Life of Eliza Pratt Greatorex (U. of California Press, 2020). More pertinent to this lecture is Women in the Dark: American Female Photographers 1850-1900 (Schiffer Publishing, 2020). She lives in New York City and the Champlain Valley with her husband James Lancel McElhinney.

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