They Could Do It All – the Women in Georgia Photography

 

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Frances Benjamin Johnston with camera, portrait ca. 1935; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-USZ62-120443.

As of this date in 2020, I have documented over 260 women involved in the business of photography in Georgia, from the mid-nineteeth, to the mid-twentieth cenury. This is quite an increase from the first time I posted these numbers in 2015 (only 185), but this number does mean I’ve documented over 20 more than I documented a year ago in 2019 (240). As I’ve noted before, these women were photographers, but also artists and colorists and retouchers, printers, studio managers, assistants, clerks, in photos supply sales, publishing photographs, and more. Some were trained by photographers, and a few attended schools of  photography. Many were also mothers.

One multi-talented woman who visited Georgia more than once to take photographs is Frances Benjamin Johnston. She came to Atlanta, Georgia, in Spring 1906, to photograph well-known author Joel Chandler Harris. She took several photos of Harris in his home, but one image in particular has been reproduced numerous times, and was even used as the basis of a U.S. 3-cent stamp.

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From 1927 to 1944, Johnston photographed historic buildings in nine southern states and documented over 1,700 sites (over 7,000 photographs), accomplishing much of that through grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. She received a sixth and final Carnegie grant which she used in 1937-39, and as late as 1944, to photograph in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. She moved to New Orleans later in life, and died there in 1952. Much of her collection is at the Library of Congress.

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Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1939 photograph of Lucy Cobb Institute, Milledge Ave., Athens, Clarke County, Georgia; Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; call number LC-J7-GA- 1010

A  book that concentrates on the documentary photographs she made in Georgia is by Frenderick D. Nicholos. The Early Architecture of Georgia; with a Pictorial Survey by Francis Benjamin Johnston, was published in 1957 by the University of North Carolina Press. A book on Johntston’s photography in general is the 1974 publication, A Talent for Detail : the Photographs of Miss Frances Benjamin Johnston: 1889-1910. I’ve had my copy for years and never tire of going through it.

In a wonderful article I recently read, journalist Annie Wilkinson of the Long Island Press wrote that “Johnston proved that a woman could master photography. She could also write. She could draw. She could paint. She could manage a successful business.”

There are many stories about Georgia’s women photographers who wore more than one hat, and I’ve told you about several in previous posts. Revisit last year’s The Unknown Women in Georgia Photography which cites my prior posts regarding Georgia’s women photographers. I mentioned some of them even earlier in Oh, My Stars! Now let me tell you a few more stories I haven’t shared before now.

Effie Simmons Beshers (1869-1919) was described as a woman who not only helped her husband T. W. (Thomas Wilbur) Beshers (1860-1923) in the photography studio, but also had her own business. On page six of the July 18, 1913 Marietta Journal & Courier, the editor wrote:

Among Marietta ladies who help their husbands in buisness Mrs. Beshers is noted. — She assists the business of photography and has her own profession besides as a picture frame maker. —- on the walls are several paintings — all done by Mrs. Beshers. — the author of these [paintings] declares she painted it beside her baby’s cradle while rocking it with her foot —-. All these pictures were not only painted but the frames were made by Mrs. Beshers. Indeed she earns a considerable amount in making frames and her piano is one result of this industry.

The talented Effie Beshers passed away following surgery in April, 1919, and was laid to rest in the Marietta city cemetery (Cobb County Times, April 10, 1919, p.12). Within a year after her death, her husband Thomas was living in Atlanta with his two daughters, one of whom, Mildred, was working there as a “film inspector” for a “Film Co.” He soon returned to Marietta to work again as a photogapher, but died a few years later in 1923.

Isabel Lawson Newman (1872-1919) was born into a prominent Atlanta family. Her father William T. Newman was a Judge and Confederate war hero, and her mother, Fanny Percy Newman, belonged to an old Knoxville, Tennessee family. In 1899, Isabel marrried popular newspaperman, Walter Howard. He was the city editor for The [Atlanta] Evening Journal, and Isabelle wrote articles for the Atlanta Journal.  Their marriage was short; Walter died on a trip to Asheville, North Carolina in June 1902.

The widowed Isabel Howard soon had an art studio in the Norcross Building. In a presentation before the Atlanta Women’s Club in early March 1903, as printed in the Atlanta Constitution (March 9, page 6) Isabel, always referred to as Mrs. Howard, told about that studio, which burned in a downtown Atlanta fire on December 9, 1902.

My studio — it was more correctly speaking — an art parlor and would have been called so but for the painful resemblance to dental parlors, which was in the Norcross Building, had been so cordially welcomed by Atlanta art lovers, was burned so suddenly, so swiftly, and so completely…….

For the past year I had been buying art materials from Mr. Turner’s art supply store, and I received a note from him the afternoon of the fire….. he had a plan which he thought could be to our mutual benefit…..I told him  I had engaged a studio in the Century Building. ………. I had promised to think it over and let him hear from me……

The article continued with Howard’s detailed description of how the drawings, and photographs, as half-tones, were reproduced for the magazine, how each page was filled, and working on it until midnight.

It was January 11, 1903, when the Atlanta Constitution (page 4) first announced the new magazine, only referred to as “Mrs. Howard’s magazine,” which she “will own, [and] edit herself.” Typically, that article concluded with who her husband was, and who’s daughter she was.

Mrs. Howard’s artistic talent which has been cultivated by the best masters and demonstrated in her work in New York and in Atlanta, and her practical knowledge of journalism, assure her magazine …. successs —–

In the women’s section of the January 25, 1903, of the same newspaper, journalists Isma Dooly and Cora Toombs gave a much better, and more intelligent account of the new magazine, Art and Photography.  Their interview with Howard provides quotes, and it  proves how excited she was about the “New York Pictorialists.” She had quite a lot to say on the subject, beginning with:

The leaders are Alfred Stieglitz, Joseph Keily, Dallett Fugnet, John Francis Strauss, who are the editors of the most beautifully illustrated magazine that has made its appearance in this country. The Camera Work it is called and in it is set forth the justice of photography being recognized as an art……..

The late 1902 plan to publish a magazine was put to Howard by Kelly M. Turner, a photographer who, since 1900, ran the Dixie Camera Company. He originally sold supplies to camera enthusists, did Kodak “finishing.” and provided a dark room for use of the public. His company began the manufacture and sale of Dixie Developing Paper in 1901. In 1902, he even gave Trading Stamps away with his services. By then he was teaching “Studio Classes Daily,” including china painting and firing, and selling Blickensderfer typewriters. He advertised heavily in the 1902 Atlanta city directory. 

During 1902, Isabel Howard was buying art supplies from Turner from his location in the Piedmont Hotel Block.  In one of Turner’s advertisements he invited the “ladies of Atlanta” to visit his new Art Store to see the “oil paintings, water colors, etchings, platinums, picture frames, etc.” He sold pyrography outfits, artists’ and photographers’ supplies, as well as doing Kodak finishing, and by then he even sold lamp shades. It was obvious he wanted to make more money. Turner’s offer to co-produce a magazine with Howard that concentrated on art and photography is not at all surprising. 

Isabel certainly had writing in her blood. She had been surrounded by authors, editors, and journalists most of her life, and Turner knew it. He assumed she would be interested, and she was. Their monthly, Art and Photography, appeared in the “Review of Books, etc. Received” column of  The Photographic Times, in April 1903 (v. 35, pg. 188), and they stated that it was “published by K. M. Turner of Atlanta, Ga.  Mrs. Walter Howard is the editor.”

Art and Photography is the only publication of its kind published in the South, and should receive a warm welcome, not only from Dixie, as it is well edited and illustrated, and will find a hearty support from all photographers and artists.

Although it was announced in January 1903, the first issue of the magazine did not come out until February. That issue included a frontispiece photograph by W. M. (William Modawell) Stephenson (1875-1941), a fairly well-known Atlanta photographer who also contributed an article on “Posing and Lighting” to the issue. There was an article on “Portrait Photography,” a series of photographs by F. C. Clark, photographically illustrated articles, and poetry in the issue.

Art and Phoography magazine adv. 1904

An advertisement for “Art and Photography” appeared in The International Studio, February 1904 (v. 21), pg. XI

The article called “Art and Photography” in that very first issue, was written by Joseph T. Keiley, an author, critic, and well-known representaive of the Pictorialists who was previously  mentioned by Howard in her interview. Isabel knew Keiley well enough to ask him to contribute to her magazine. In fact, both their fathers had been officers in the Confederate army, and  Joseph Keiley had been a lawyer and Isabel’s father was a judge — it is indeed a small world (for more on Keiley, see The Sunny South, July 13, 1901, pg. 2 for Caroline S. Mahony’s article “Pictorial Photography in America”).

I have found few records of issue contents, and it appears that Howard and Turner were unable to keep up the magazine’s proposed monthly schedule. In the April 1903 issue of Art and Photography, the table of contents lists an etching as frontispiece, a photograph by prominent Atlanta photographer Linnie Condon-Hendrick, as well as an article by Felix Raymer, the author of Photo Lighting (H. A. Hyatt, 1902), on “Certain Effects of Lighting,” an article on “Advertising Photography,” a piece on home-made paper, various other illustrated articles, and editorials.

The June 1903, issue contained another article by Felix Raymer on “Lighting White Drapery,” a photograph by Isabel’s business partner, K. M. Turner, and one by Atlanta photographer W. Edward Platt, an article on the “Humorous Side of Photography,” and another on developing negatives, plus additional photographs, an article on china painting, a short story, and book reviews. In Art and Photography for August 1903, there was an illustrated article by Atlanta’s Nellie Peters Black on “Handwork by Women of North Georgia.”

Even if Isabel Howard was doing the magazine on her own by late 1903, her address for the publication was given as 124 Peachtree Street, which was the Dixie Supply Company address. Howard was listed as editor of the magazine, and at that address, in the 1904 N. W. Ayer & Son’s American Newspaper Annual. An advertisement for Art and Photography appeared in the February 1904 issue of The International Studio, a British publication, but I do not believe there were ever any 1904 issues. By early 1904, Art and Photography was absorbed (purchased) by another Atlanta publication called Alkahest, which had also bought a Virginia and a Florida magazine.

In March 1904, Kelley M. Turner held a “Bankrupt Sale” of all stock and fixtures of his Dixie Supply Company, at “below cost.” Turner soon left Atlanta and was in New York City by 1905, and living in Queens by 1910. He was no longer working in photography, but he did well as a “merchant,” and traveled to Europe in 1912 and 1913.  At the time of this death on November 7, 1927, he’d been living in Los Angeles, California about eight years. He was given a Masonic funeral in L.A., before a cremation, and then buried in Indiana. According to his Nov. 8, 1927, obituaries (Muncie, Indiana Star Press, “Hoosier Inventor Dies,” and L.A. Times, “Hollywood Radio Man Succumbs”), K. M. Turner was the inventor of electrical and radio devices.

In 1905, Isabel became the secretary-treasurer of the Atlanta Art Association. That association was formed in 1903, and in 1918 she became its fifth president. When she passed away at her parents home on July 21, 1919, after an illness, the Art Association adopted a resolution (“Art Association Deplores Death of Mrs. Howard,” in the Atlanta Constitution July 24, 1919, pg. 10), writing that she had

been a vital power in its establishment and upbuilding —- in devotion to the work of the Association she was invaluable — she was so important a factor in the life of the city that her death will be a loss to all.

Her death was also noted on August 14, 1919, by Editor & Publisher (v. 52, pg.47). Isabel Newman Howard was buried at Westview cemetery with other Newman family.

Isabel’s younger sister Frances was writing essays and book reviews during her sister’s lifetime, and she too, wrote for the Atlanta Journal. After Isabel’s death Frances Newman took a leave of absence from her job at Georgia Tech and fairly quickly wrote and published two novels. Those novels, The Hard Boiled Virgin, and Dead Lovers are Faithful Lovers, were banned in Boston. Frances Newman (1883-1928) died at approximately the same age as Isabel, and she too, accomplished much in her short life. She was considered “a rare feminist voice in the Southern literature of her era” (Barbara Ann Wade, quoted on Wikipedia).

As women’s history month closes, you may want to take a look at a Timeline on Women and the Vote, developed by my virtual friend Gena as part of her annual, informative Women’s History Month celebration.  Although the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote in this country in 1920, in Georgia women could not vote until 1922. You can read my article on Georgia’s involvement in Woman Suffrage in the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, without written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. The piece can be re-blogged, and excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

2 comments

  1. Frances Osborn Robb · · Reply

    Let’s have a shout out for all these wonderful women.

    1. Once again, lots of typos just corrected! Thanks for reading anyway….!

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