BOOK:Women in the Dark: Female Photographers in the United States, 1850–1900

Women in the Dark: Female Photographers in the United States, 1850–1900

By Katherine Manthorne.

Manthorne (California Mexicana), an art history professor at CUNY, provides a revealing portrait of early forgotten women commercial photographers in this graceful and thoughtful illustrated history. Filled with rare examples of the women’s art, the book provides short biographies of the photographers along with an appendix featuring articles written by some of the artists themselves (e.g. “How a Woman Makes Landscape Photographs” by Eliza W. Withington in an 1876 issue of Philadelphia Photographer). Many early photographers supported their families with their work after losing husbands; they often concentrated on spirit work and shots of women and children at weddings, births, and on deathbeds (one 1860s daguerreotype taken in Wisconsin by Miss A.L. Paulus is titled Deceased Young Boy in a Dark Suit). Manthorne is an astute and thoughtful guide as she points out the many photographers who turned their attention to landscape and architecture, and promoted various causes (N.L. Rowley photographed women in bloomers and pants in a reaction to the constraining corsets in the mid-19th century). As cameras became cheaper and more accessible, everyday “Kodak girls” began documenting their travels and interests. This focused work brings forgotten history to life and will attract feminists and photographers alike.