“Hermine (Käsebier) Turner and her son in a garden in Oceanside, L.I.”, Gertrude Käsebier, 1905.
Public domain. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
Last week, the Library Of Congress’ blog ran a brief post about American photographer Gertrude Käsebier (cass-eh-beer—oh, boy, dictionary writers are going to kill me now), who was one of the first female photojournalists. No doubt her place in the history of photography had much to do with this, but reading about her, there’s no doubt her personality did much to gain her success, as well. She seems to have been an extremely determined, almost single-minded woman; thus, even in the late 1800s, she gained renown for her work in an age when most women cared for family and home instead of running a business.
“American Horse and wife, American Indian”, Gertrude Käsebier, 1900. Isn’t this stunning? Don’t you wonder about American Horse, his life before and after this was taken?
Public domain, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
More than any of this, though, what drew me to her work was not only the era in which she worked—I suppose we could call it the birth of popular, publicly consumed photography in the States—but her subject matter and her reason for capturing it on camera:
After my babies came I determined to learn to use the brush. I wanted to hold their
“The Manger, an experimental negative to show values of white against white, featuring a young woman holding a baby and made in Newport, R.I.” Gertrude Käsebier, 1901.
Public domain photo courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
lovely little faces in some way that should be also my expression, so I went to an art school; two or three of them, in fact. But art is long and childhood is fleeting, I soon discovered, and the children were losing their baby faces before I learned to paint portraits, so I chose a quicker medium. – Gertrude Käsebier quoted in “The Camera Has Opened a New Profession for Women–Some of Those Who Have Made Good,” New York Times, April 20, 1913, X12
Her comment about needing a “quicker medium” did make me chuckle, and you may find yourself doing the same! Continue reading