English collections of women photographers in national museums

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Queensland University of Technology]On: 21 November 2014, At: 23:52Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    English collections of women photographers innational museumsVal WilliamsPublished online: 01 Oct 2013.

    To cite this article: Val Williams (1994) English collections of women photographers in national museums, History ofPhotography, 18:3, 242-244, DOI: 10.1080/03087298.1994.10442357

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  • Women in Photography Archives and Resources

    English Collections of Women Photographers in National Museums

    Val Williams

    Major collections have an important. but often unexamined position in the historiography of photography. In addition to offering evidence of the past or a reflection of contemporary times. they call attention to particular artists or genres. It is unusual in Britain for major public collections to bear the names of their curators; instead. collections becomc identificd with the institution that houses and cares for them. Rarely do we question the predilections and agendas of those who purchased or acquired works and archives. or properly consider the effect on a collection of policies and interests of th~'SC institutions that may change radically over the years. Collections themselves are continuously being re-assessed: a collection. or elements of it. can be substan-tially reinterpreted within the space of a decade. For example. work that in the nineteenth century may have ~'CIl acquired as architectural photography. perhaps catalogued only by place name. can be relocated under its author. often bringing to light a new set of masterworks.

    From the major public collections. a whole set of cultural enterprises radiates. Exhibitions. publishing projects. and educa-tional programmes often draw their core material from work avail-able in public collections. The keepers of these collections are bound to maintain impartiality towards the needs of historians. curators. and critics. Nevertheless. as fashions in photography change. they need to remain aware of new directions and new concerns.

    Finance. of course. plays a major part in the making of collections. As photographs have become more valuable commo-dities. the days when enormous archives - representing either a single artist or a single collector's collection - could be bought for very litde have all but passed. Financial restrictions limit the ability of collections to grow, and thus many major collections in England have become associated with particular periods or artists that were collected in the past.

    To be collected by a major institution has great significance: it affects how past photographers are viewed, but it also has an important impact on contemporary artists. The work collected attains status that reflects on the artist's career and on the value of his or her photographs in the art market. Work becomes validated in a way that has no significant parallels. Collectors, whether from major national institutions or from the private sector. often develop important and longstanding relationships with those whose work they collect.

    In Britain collecting policies formulated by committees or advisory groups do not seem to have any schematic structure. and remain the province of empowered individuals. Such individua-lism within national collecting has both advantages and draw-backs. It has enabled particular collectors to develop strong. important and yet often highly idiosyncratic groupings of works, which are not always in full accord with a wider photograpbic consensus.

    This preamble, though dealing only superficially with com-plex issues. is particularly important when evaluating collections of women's work. and the presence (or lack thereof) of photo-

    242 0301!-729IIj94 SIO.OO 10 1994 Taylor III Francis LId.

    graphy by women in major national collections in England. This study. brief as it is, and with its inevitable exclusions. examines four major collecting institutions in England. It is divided into two parts-nineteenth century and early twentieth century, and alphabetically within - and draws on information supplied by the four institutions to researcher Anna Fox and to the author.

    Historically. women's photography has been margina1ized despite the many women practitioners who have operated since the invention of the medium. Much of the photography made by women in the early days has disappeared. uncatalogued and uncollected. its importance disregarded. Some women were less confident about the value of their work than men because they were less likely to attract the patronage of powerful dealers. to be invited to hold major one-person shows. or to take part in prestigious group exhibitions. Photo-journalists were less likely to be commissioned by mainstream editors. Commercially, photo-graphs by women have been less prestigious to collect, and the p~icular bonding that has existed between male curator and male photographer is foregone. Sometimes women sell their work for less than it is worth on the art market because recognition is worth more than a proper financial reward for their- efforts.

    The holdings of nineteenth-century women photographers in four major English collections-the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Photographic Society, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television - illustrates the challenge presented to a researcher attempting to construct an accurate history of women's photo-graphy of this period. The major nineteenth-century holdings of women's photography within these four collections are:

    Victoria and Albert Museum Julia Margaret Cameron: 300 prints, acquired by Sir Henry

    Cole Lady Clementina Hawarden: 776 prints. acquired by Charles

    Gibbs Smith in 1939

    Ntltiontll Portrtlit Gallery, London Sarah Angelina Adand [1849-1930]: 3 prints Ethel Arnold [1866-1920): 1 print Ethel Barker [1899-1903): 1 print Alice Boughton [1865-1943]: 6 prints Anna Bramston [1890s): 1 print Madame Brunner [1860s]: 1 print Mr & Mrs Bustin [1860s): 1 print Julia Margaret Cameron [1815-1879): 53 prints Lady Roscoe [1880s): 1 print

    Royal Photographic Society, Bath Julia Margaret Cameron: 769 prints Mary E. Lynn: 700 prints Mrs Dillwyn [1850s]: 3 prints Lady Augusta Mostyn [1850s]: 2 prints Lady Augusta Nevill [1850s): 2 prints Lady Caroline Nevill [t850s): 3 prints Jane Reid [1890s): t print

    Nalional Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford Julia Margaret Cameron Lady Hawarden

    HIsTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY. VOLUME 18. NUMBtiIl 3~ AUTUMN 1994

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  • English Collections of Women Photographers in National Museums

    The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television holdings are slightly more obscure. As an outstation of the Science Museum in London, collection policy is shared. From our researches, . we established only the above twO holdings of nineteenth-century women's photography. Much work is cur-rently being !1Ddertaken by the museum to widen public know-ledge of its eXtensive collection.

    The above lists, of course, exclude a great number of photo-graphs contained in Victorian albums and the archive material. Not all the work in these national collections have been precisely catalogued.

    From 1900 onwards, the position of women photographers within national collections improves. Terence Pepper of the National Portrait Gallery, active since the early 1970s, has done women's photography and photographic history a great service by his intelligent collecting and re-assessment, through exhibitons and publications of women's photography made during the first thirty years of the twentieth century. Pepper has established through preliminary research that the number of women photo-graphers operating in Britain increased considerably after 1900, with the highly successful studio photographer Alice Hughes acting as a role model for many younger women. The NPG holdings of women photographers active from 1900 to 1940 are considerable, and includes the following work:

    National Portrait Gallery, London Mrs Albert Broom [photographed suffragette movement and

    military life]: 22 prints; 46 negatives Lallie Charles [active 1890-1920): 4 prints Winifred Casson [Surrealist; active 1930s): I print Lena Connell [studio work; suffragette portraiture): 3 prints Olive Edis [studio photographer; women active in World

    War I]: 305 prints; 39 autochromes Yvonne Gregory [studio portraiture; active from 1916

    onwards): 6 prints Alice Hughes: 8 prints Barbara Ker-Seymer [avant-garde portraiture; active early

    19305): 6 prints Ursula Powys Lybbe [experimental work; active 19305): 17

    prints Helen McGregor [avant-garde portraiture; active 1920s): 2

    prints . Helen Muspratt and Lettice Ramsey [portraiture; active early

    19305 onwards]: 58 prints Eveleen Tennant Myers [portraiture; active 1888-1900s]: 70

    prints Lisa Sheridan [portraiture and advertisements; active 19305

    onwards]: 7 prints Dorothy Wilding [portraiture; active 1912-58): 710 prints;

    321 negatives Madame Yevonde [experimental colour; active 1914

    onwards): 219 prints

    At the Royal Photographic Society the modern period is well represented, though it must he borne in mind that a consider-able proportion of the RPS collection has been acquired through members' donations of their own work, rather than purchased. One of the most important holdings owned by the RPS is undoubtedly that of the pictorialist Agues Warburg, an inftuential RPS member. Significant;too, are the following archives:

    Royal Photographic Society, Bath Violet Blaiklock [active 1920s-30s]: 69 prints Constance Ellis [active 1900-10]: 2 prints Gertrude Klisebier: 23 prints Mrs K. M. Parsons [active 19405]: 24 prints Marietta Ralli [active 19305): 3 prints Kate Smith [active 1910s-30s]: 35 prints Agnes Warburg [Pictorialist]: 765 prints Dorothy Wilding: 22 prints Madame Yevonde: 13 prints

    Although much of the RPS collection was acquired by John

    Dudley Johnston from 1920 to 1950, credit also must go to the collection's present curator, Pam Roberts, who has done much work to bring women in the RPS collection to the fore.

    The Victoria and Albert Museum has made important recent acquisitions and received two significant donations during the 1970s and early 19805: Curator Mark Haworth-Booth has, in the Ia.,t ten years, purchased many important works by post-modernist artists working with photography, including Helen Chadwick, Hannah Collins and Maud SuIter.

    Victoria and Albert Museum, London Berenice Abbott: 6 prints Marianne Breslauer: 6 prints Fay Godwin: 60 prints Florence Henri: 12 prints Dorothea Lange: 40 prints Lee Miller: I print Grace Robertson [former Picture Post photographer from the

    19505]: 20 prints

    At the National Museum of Photography, Film, and Tele-vision, collection policy is often tied to the various awards, fellowships, and exhibitions that the Museum has promoted, when purchase of works is a built-in component of the scheme. For example, as a result of the 1986 exhibition Women's Photogra-phy in Britain 1900-1950 a portfolio of prints (selected by Val Williams, Zelda Cheatle, and Terry Morden of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television) was purchased by the Museum. This included work by the following photo-graphers:

    National M~umfor Photography, Film and Television, Bradford Edi~ Tudor Hart [radical documentary work; active 19305] Ida Kar [portraiture; active 1950s) Lee Miller [portraiture; active 19305) Margaret Monck [active 19305) Helen Muspratt [active 1930s) Grace Robertson

    The conclusions to be drawn from this albeit brief study of the collecting of women's photography in England are thought provoking. It should be borne in mind that while there seem to be noticeable gaps in the four collections observed - for instance, the paucity of Lee Miller prints - often these collections exist elsewhere in private collections (as in the case of the Lee Miller Archive in Sussex, England), which are well-catalogued and accessible. The collections of tJte Arts Council .and the British Council also hold purchased archives of work by contemporary women photographers. Numerous commissions from galleries, Arts Associations, and commercial sponsors have also resulted in collections of work by women. The donation of prints by artists has not been made attractive to photographers by the British Government, as it has by the US government in the form of a system of tax allowances. This ensures that large collections more often find their way to the auction houses or to private dealers rather than to national museums. The expansion of knowledge about women's photographic history has overtaken the finance av

  • Amy Rule

    what their work is actua11y worth - one senses that this some-. what tenuous partnership between artist and collector will soon be

    revised. Though no statistical comparison has been made of the

    numerical ditTerence between holdings by male photographers and women, it is doubdess that the balance is in favour of the former: particu1arly in collections that have been developed from the t 960s to the early t 98Os. One hopes that this balance will be readjusted retrospectively, if contemporary women are to gain any real sense of their own histories. In the UK at least, finance is a vital factor in the re-building of collections to accommodate a women's history of photography, but equally important perhaps is a recognition of the oddly symbiotic relationship between the collector and the artist, and the need to re-asscss a photographic history that is in dire need of re-writing.

    Archives of American Women Photographers Amy Rule

    The trajectory of a photographer's life can be plotted using a variety of data; historical, biographical, anatomical, psychological, gustatory, economic, geographic, and aesthetic. It often happens, however exhaustive the historian's research, that the points on the trajectory's curve end up widely spaced and erratic. A contiguous set of points delineating a life's progress seems to be an unobtain-able goal when the nature of biographical documentation is considered.

    The sources for biography reside in many locations. The primary one is, of course, the photographer's own archivc.-s. These are increasingly being sought out, collected, an~ used as the field of photographic history matures. Unfortunately, .even as the need for archives increases, our ability to locate them still depends on an informal and unreliable network of word-of-mouth referrals and published references. There are no library sources that reliably locate photographers' archives.

    Some researchers claim that they want to see the 'documen-tation' on a subjeCt, really meaning that they want to see what has been published. The historian truly breaking new ground, how-ever, must have documentation in its rawest and least digested form. We need the letters and diaries written by a photographer so that figures of speech, handwriting, expression of thought, persooal relationships, and a hundred other subdeties can be studied. We need to have the negatives, those primary antecedents of photographic prints, to envision the decision-making process of the photographer, evidenced by cropping, layering, chemically altering what was on the negative. We must have complete bodies of work; photographs from all stages of a career. We need to have birth and death certificates, tax records, passports, and health records telling the official 'facts' of a life.

    In the lives of women photographers as frequendy as in the lives of men, a variety of natural and unnatural disasters can destroy these archives and rob future historians of data. Archives can be lost when a husband or lover's overshadowing career obscures things, as in the life of Sonya Noskowiak, the companion of Edward Weston. Often no caretaker is around to salvage documents when a woman suffers a precipitously lonely fall at the end, as did Margrethe Mather. When love and career are inter-twined, a woman may choose to decisively erase the record of her life as did Margaret Bourke-White, who burned diaries. Perhaps more frequendy the rude chaos of a life spent seeking the right man, the right home, the right vehicle of expression may scatter the records of a career like Consuelo Kanaga's.

    Archives otTer the chance that an artist's work can be freed from the assumptions of a later era and examined in context. Archives pose the question of whether the fame bestowed by one generation will stand up to the sleuthing and scrutiny of the next

    244

    generation of scholars, and archives make it possible for us to write a story different from and complementary to the artist's invented life.

    For this article, I attempted to compile a list of the locations of the archives of women photographers working in the United States. Starting with lis.ts that I gleaned from standard histories of photography, I tried to locate the repositories that preserve not just the photographs, but the whole archives of women working creatively with photography. It should not have surprised me that approached from this angle my project turned out to limit itself by circular definition. I found the archives of all the women mentioned in the major histories, but if I had begun with a list of repositories to query, I would have ended up with a perhaps vastly more interesting list of the names of women photographers who have not yet been written about. This is clearly the next step for my research to take.

    I have defined archival collections as those containing mater-ials such as letters, diaries, personal papers, and negatives. Photo-graphs, being multiples, can exist in various locations, but an individual's negatives and correspondence can reside in only one location. Resources exist to guide us to collections of photo-graphs, but what this list tries to do is to provide a map to the unique, primary documentation in archival collections.

    By limiting the list to women already deceased, I had to leave out important senior photographers such as Eve Arnold, Ruth Bernhard, Helen Levitt, and Dorothy Norman who are, J am glad to say, living, and in many cases still working. Many of the women who photographed for the Farm Security Administra-tion or for the Standard Oil Company project of the late 19405 are still living, so I did not get the opportunity to mention Charlotte Brooks, Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Pauline Ehrlich, Martha McMillan Roberts, Eileen Rosener, or Louise Rosskam in this list. While a portion of their careers are documented in the Farm Security Administration Files and the Standard Oil Company Records, their subsequent work in photo-jOurnalism, teaching, and commercial photography remains in personal archives.

    The list primarily includes archives in public institutions for the simple reason that they are the most easily accessible to researchers. When it is known that a private collection is preserv-ing an archive, that information is included. The determined researcher will instinctively look for leads to additional archival records that may be in private hands and try to gain access to them.

    The number of repositories interested in collecting the archives of women photographers is growing. From a core group of photographic institutions with a stated mission to collect archives (International Museum of Photography at George East-man House and Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Ari-zona), and institutions with a strong interest in photography (The J. Paul Getty Museum and Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin), the list of active collectors now includes a diverse group of organizations. Future research will have to take into account the possibility of archives showing up in a wide variety of places such as the Women in California Collection, California Historical Society, San Francisco; the Louis Noun-Mary Louis Smith Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa, Des Moines; and the Perkins Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (with a permanently funded position of Women's Studies Archivist).

    For this list I gathered data from personal visits to repositor-ies, from bibliographies in dissertations and monographs, from interviews with scholars, and from the meagre number of pub-lished reference sources. Among the most helpful general listings were:

    Anckca Hinding. W ....... s History s "",, II Guide If> Atdti ........ M""..mp' C.lkctUHts i. tIu V.iml SI4Iu (1979).

    N.n-.I Vnion Cdl4/og of MdlaUUip' C.lkctUHts includes 'photographic papcn' under the heading Photography. This catalogue of the boIdings of American manuscript repositories is also available on-line through the Re=rch Libraries Information NetwOrk (RUN) and very n:cendy has been added to the more widelY04vaiJable database. OCLC.

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