Frances Benjamin Johnston, (American/Louisiana, 1864-1952), Collection of Five Photographs, 1900-1908, including three cyanotypes of...
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Frances Benjamin Johnston (American/Louisiana, 1864-1952) Collection of Five Photographs, 1900-1908 including two sepia-toned ones of Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, commissioned by Booker T. Washington, and three cyanotypes of a schoolroom and the Pan American Union Building in Washington, D.C. each inscribed en verso with the artist's name, location and date; the Tuskegee classroom photograph is titled, probably in the artist's hand, "Tailoring". Each unframed. each 7-3/8" to 8" x 9-3/8" to 9-1/2" Notes: This collection of photographs represents an extraordinary view of American history, produced by one of the most accomplished photographers of the 20th century. Frances Benjamin Johnston was one of the first women artists to have her own studio. She received multiple magazine commissions for celebrity portraits, and she was the official White House photographer for five administrations from Benjamin Harrison through William Taft, photographing President McKinley just moments before he was assassinated at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in New York. After receiving her first camera from George Eastman, a family friend and inventor of the Kodak cameras, she was trained in developing and dark-room techniques by Thomas Smillie, director of photography at the Smithsonian Institute. Johnston garnered additional art instruction at the Washington Students League and the prestigious Academie Julian in Paris. Education remained a central focus in Johnston's work. She wrote numerous articles on what women can do with cameras and co-curated an exhibition of women photographers at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. She gained even wider acclaim at the Exposition for her display of photographs of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute for African-Americans in Virginia, commissioned by its President Dr. Hollis Burke Frissel. Booker T. Washington, a graduate of Hampton and the President of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, was so impressed with Johnston's virtuoso in recording the classrooms and buildings with a sensitivity not seen before that he commissioned her to photograph Tuskegee. These two sepia-toned photographs of students receiving instruction in sewing and furnace maintenance remain stunning chronicles of this series, illustrating the stark contrast in resources between African-American trade schools and the liberal arts curriculum of white school children, seen here in two of the cyanotypes, sculpting clay at their desks after Classical Greek prototypes. The last photograph from Johnston's service under Theodore Roosevelt illustrates the interior of the Pan American Union Building - the headquarters for the Organization of the American States, erected under the Roosevelt administration on the site of the John Peter Nees Mansion in Washington, D.C. Following the Hampton and Tuskegee commissions, Johnston's interest in architecture, in a desire to document buildings and gardens that had fallen into disrepair, led her to the American South, where she became a pioneering figure committed to the region's architectural history, receiving grants and commissions from eight southern states, including Louisiana, where she retired in a home on Bourbon Street.
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