Published: Oct. 1, 1999 By

"We'd all sit together at a big table and Diane would sit with us. She'd never say a word — she'd just listen and then suddenly you'd look up and she'd be gone. She was the only woman who was ever in our little group." – Walter Silver, documentary photographer and friend of Arbus's, recalling meetings at the Limelight with Weegee, Robert Frank, and Louis Faurer.1

"I will always admit that you did everything in your power to — to — to — make me run straight, as the sporting men say." – Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn.2

[1]   No form of image making comes closer to biblical concepts of Genesis than photography. Largely determined by various separations and modulations of light and dark, the primal association of the camera's pictures become all the more pronounced when photography's self-consciousness and voyeurism, both inherent in the Fall, are kept in mind. Power and fear are often linked to the lens and to its image, tribal societies recognizing that boxed Cyclops as the Evil Eye.

[2]   Links between photographic process/product and conventional concepts of masculinity and femininity, though abundantly manifest, are seldom fully acknowledged. This essay explores the sexual subtext underlying and defining the shift from one key turn-of-the-century photographic movement to a new trend — with a novel term and taste — evolving just after World War I. This shift would affect most twentieth-century photography until the 1980's.

[3]   First coined around 1918, the terms 'Straight'3 or 'Pure' Photography were used to describe a then novel, self-consciously 'honest' aesthetic. This new current turned away from the 'false' ways and dubious means of its officially 'artistic' predecessor, 'Pictorial' photography. The earlier photographic approach, which had dominated international salons and competitions, imitated the effects of academic Impressionism, following the schools of Dresden, The Hague, and Barbizon as well as Paris.

[4]   Many women belonged to the innumerable, thriving amateur photographic societies and other camera organizations pre-dating World War I. Constance Fox Talbot, wife of one of photography's founders, assisted her husband in his work. Later, in the 1860's, wealthy women like Clementina Hawarden and Julia Margaret Cameron made photographs within their narrow social circles. The Pre-Raphaelite affectation of Hawarden's work was risible, while portraits by Cameron are among the most searching ever made.

[5]   A Federation of Women Photographers was formed, and as early as the late 1880's camera work was deemed especially appropriate for "the gentler sex".4 American women photographers organized a pavilion at the Paris World's Fair of 1900 for the exhibiting of their work, some seven years after Mrs. Potter Palmer, a leading suffragist, provided funds for a special building at the Chicago World's Fair to display the oeuvre of women painters, sculptors, and craftspeople. Though few women made a living from photography, substantial cash awards were on offer in countless contests throughout the western world, many sponsored by manufacturers of camera equipment. Some competitions were limited to women only, others exhibited the submissions of male and female contestants separately, as at the American Institute Salon held in New York in 1898, which had a "Women Pictorialists Division."

[6]   A column entitled "Women in Photography," written by Catherine Weed Ward, appeared in the popular and profitable English photographic publication The Photogram. Women were well represented at the Albright Art Gallery show in Buffalo in 1910, the high point of American Pictorialist photography and perhaps its swan song. This exhibition arranged by Alfred Stieglitz, long a key figure in 'artistic' photography and one of its chief American entrepreneurs and proponents, marked the highpoint of a movement that proved to be near death by the end of the next decade. The 'Photo-Secession', as Stieglitz's photographic circle was known, had flourished before the War, and one-fifth of the group, or 28 in all, were women. The 'Linked Ring', a sophisticated and exclusive pre-War organization for Pictorial photography, included many prominent women as members, led by the much-admired Anne W. Brigman, Eva Watson-Schütze, Laura Adams Armer, and Gertrude Käsebier.

[7]   'Pictorial' photography was often based on delicate, restrained imagery of a Whistlerian cast, stereotypically 'feminine' and ideally suited to the earlier approach of Gertrude Käsebier in New York and Brigman on the West Coast.5 Lines between turn-of-the-century commercial and amateur photography were as blurred as their products, just as fuzzy as today's demarcation between professional and amateur athletics. Women played a considerable role in camera clubs, enormously popular at the time, with hundreds of thousands of members in the United States alone. Because membership in these societies was usually restricted to those whose incomes came from other sources, women's competence with a camera was seldom a threat to male ego or earning power. An implicit 'Boy-meets-Girl' scenario was an important part of the clubs' appeal. Bicycle outings, joint exhibitions and competitions, and slide lectures in darkened halls provided suitably chaperoned, quasi-social 'improving' occasions. In late 19th-century America, 'culture' was often linked to a new feminine perspective, first instilled by Horace Mann's shift from male to female teachers in the elementary schools.6 At Harvard Charles Eliot Norton, who initiated its program for the study of painting and sculpture and was a passionate apostle of Ruskin, believed it his mission "to preserve 'feminine' refinement in the face of Gilded Age brutality …."7

[8]   Nothing could be further from the genteel goals of Pictorialism or the consistently polite perspectives of Salon photography of the Belle Epoque and Art Nouveau periods than the new principles of Straight, or Pure, photography. Significantly, both terms labeling the new movement have markedly sexual associations. Purity, applied to Mary, to her Immaculate Conception, and to her son's Incarnation, is often used as a synonym for virginity, an absolute state of innocence uncorrupted by carnal knowledge and undefiled by sexual experience. The term 'pure' was first applied within a photographic context to denote the restoration of camerawork's integrity by the talented English amateur F. Holland Day, many of whose images were of medieval ecclesiastical architecture.8 He associated the moral term with photography that remained no more nor less than itself, its final appearance resulting solely from the consequences of photographic process without darkroom modification.

[9]   Day also specialized in homoerotic recreations of the Passion and related images, extraordinary fusions of narcissicism and pietism. Never doubting his unusually one-to-one correlation of God's image with his own, Day cast himself in the role of suffering Saviour, and many of his photographs constitute an autobiographical Via Crucis. Choice of the term 'pure' to characterize his conception of a new photo-aesthetic shed a protective glow of morality and sanctity over his oeuvre. 'Straight' was to become the American approximation of 'Pure' photography but with a new view of content, composition, and focus. The term was probably first popularized by one of Stieglitz's most talented protégés, the young American Paul Strand, a term seen as best encapsulating the novel quality of the new man's work. As noted by Joel Eisinger, "As a whole , the movement projected a stiff-necked even self righteous certainty."9

[10]   Both 'Straight' and 'Pure' come closer to the self-congratulatory than to the definitive. Rejecting the supposedly deceitful practices of its conventionally and overtly Pictorial predecessor, the new movement aimed at a thorough-going objectivity opposed to Pictorialism's often sentimental, quaintly contrived images. Day's Pure Photography was closer to Pictorialism but without its cosmetic, manipulative practices; Strand's was far more abstract, with tinges of Cubism and an awareness of the School of Paris.

[11]   Radical, economical, and dramatic images by Paul Strand were treated monographically in the last volume of Camera Work. That lavish publication, long subsidized by Stieglitz's wife, appeared in 1917. It tolled the death knell for Artistic photography. Austere and sharply defined, Strand's aesthetic goals relate to those of the Berlin post-War movement Die Neue Sächlichkeit, whose painters abandoned the raw, often primitivizing emotionalism of Expressionism for a new absolute. Clear-cut and dry-eyed, the restrained vision of the 'New Objectivity' was limited to actuality: what you see (not what you feel) is what you get.

[12]   German photography also moved toward a cooler, more distanced perspective, exemplified in photography by Renger-Patsch. Stieglitz himself, whose parentage was German and who had spent his happiest years in Berlin, stayed ever close to Teutonic values. In many ways the city was his spiritual home, and he lived there for 9 years on a comfortable parental allowance.Camera Work, so lavish in format it may have strained even Emmeline Stieglitz's large brewery- derived income, was in the same precious spirit as Berlin's splendid art periodical Pan. In a sense Stieglitz's sympathy for Strand's work was part of his ongoing affirmation of the cultural values of his parents' birthplace, brought up to date from the late Victorian to the dawn of Modernism by way of Die Neue Sächlichkeit.10 Suddenly Käsebier, who committed the unforgivable sin of making money (Stieglitz had married for money instead), was drummed out of the club, referred to derisively as "Ma" Käsebier for her profitable genre.

[13]   Stieglitz wrote in 1919 to the garrulous photo-journalist Sadakichi Hartmann, describing the photographic portrait series he had just made of Georgia O'Keeffe, for whom he had left his wife.11 About this radical series, among his very best work, he said: "It is straight. No tricks of any kind. — No Humbug. — No sentimentalism. — Not old nor new. — It is so sharp that you can see the [pores] in a face — & yet it is abstract. All say that [they] don't feel they are conscious of any medium. — It is a series of about 100 pictures of one person — heads & ears — toes — hands — torsos." Stieglitz, surprisingly derivative is so many ways, had actually taken the term "straight" from an essay by the garrulous art journalist Hartmann. Sadakichi has written an essay entitled "A Plea for Straight Photography " in 1904.12 This however was merely a plea for reduced rather than for the absolute renunciation of hand-made darkroom artistry.

[14]   Paradoxically, it took the middle-aged photographer's passion for a beautiful and gifted young woman — a professional model as well as a painter of high-keyed sexual subject matter — to change his attitude, his approach, and his aesthetic. "At last a woman on paper," he famously remarked on first seeing her work. O'Keeffe's sexuality and that aspect of her art weaned him from the "tricks, the humbug", from all the "womanly" emotional associations of Pictorial Photography, and freed him for the Abstract.

[15]   Only with O'Keeffe as Muse and Strand as visual role model could Stieglitz embark upon a radical Vita Nuova, ready to renounce what he perceived as a feminine manner for a masculine vision. Now he too could embrace the 'Straight'. In the hundreds of portraits of O'Keeffe, Stieglitz created images in series, presenting her as a natural wonder, rather in the same vein as Monet's haystacks, his views of Rouen Cathedral, or Hokusai's views of Mount Fuji. Now photographs provided the means for a sexual exploration of a woman by her lover. Lense and paper replaced eye, hands, body and phallus. Significantly, this series was exhibited along with O'Keeffe's sexually charged canvasses at the Anderson Galleries in 1921.13 Many of Stieglitz's friends were critical of what they felt to be the commercial exploitation of his artist-model-mistress, who was revealed in these views with an unprecedented intimacy, and condemned him for a sort of pictorial pandering. But they misread both the photographer and his Muse: made for each other, she was as exploitative of her own sex in her oils as he of her sex in his photographs. A strange subtext of the Anderson Galleries show — almost audible in the dialogue between O'Keeffe's paintings and Stieglitz's photographs — was a heightened parallel perception of the sexually fantasizing pictures as "woman's work" and the sexually explicit photographs as "man's work."

[16]   O'Keeffe's few commissions were given by women or were for women, whether ordered by the cosmetics queen Elizabeth Arden to embellish her exercise salon or by the Rockefellers for the beautification of the Ladies' Room at Radio City Music Hall. The painter's sly, elegantly evasive de-personalization and "redecoration" of female private parts into socially acceptable public attractions made O'Keeffe's art one of America's most peculiar success stories, and one of the few to be 'Depression-proof'. A Romaine Brooks of the Burpee Seed catalogue, she contributed with her floral art a Lesbian coda to Art Deco.

[17]   Significantly, it was the conduct of warfare — until recently a male monopoly — that turned another Stieglitz disciple, Edward Steichen, against the aestheticism of Artistic photography. During the decade before World War I the Luxembourg-born Steichen had been among America's leading Pictorialists as well as its greatest talent scout amidst the Parisian avant-garde, sending Rodin, Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi, and tribal arts on to America for exhibition in Stieglitz's Little Gallery of the Photo Secession (later known as '291').

[18]   As technical adviser to the American Army's aerial photography services during the second Battle of the Marne, Steichen's views of camera work changed. As Peter Pollack noted, "Here was the end of the gum prints; the arty, fuzzy photography was a thing of the past. Sharp and brilliant detail was required; photographs had to be so clearly defined that everything could be recognized from aerial views. Lives depended upon it. The Army taught Colonel Steichen a new way of photography ….He took a year out after his discharge to experiment with straight photography …. He put away his brushes and burned his paintings."14

[19]   Pollack equates Straight photography with the exigencies of manly, mortal combat, with Pictorialism cast in the worst of fuzzy wuzzy lights. Steichen certainly held such a view, destroying his entire corpus of works in the Artistic mode, paintings and photographs alike. Steichen had been Stieglitz's most gifted young associate prior to Paul Strand. His beginnings as a painter-decorator, with its probable roots in his family background (his Alsatian-born mother was a modiste), together with the 'lady-like' associations of the Pictorial movement, were sent up in smoke in this potlatch of destruction. His burnt offering to Straight modernity not only liberated Steichen for a new career of great commercial as well as artistic distinction but also opened the life of this extraordinarily handsome man to far greater sexual freedom than he had hitherto permitted himself.15

[20]   A major contribution of the so-called Great War to new photographic flexibility and vision was Oscar Barnack's invention in 1914 of the 35 mm. Leica camera. This too, in Pollack's aggressive but essentially accurate phraseology, "brought changes to all contemporary photography and dealt a telling blow to the pictorial school ….16 There was a novel quasi-masculinity about leaving the formality and stability of the box camera, with all its obvious female symbolic links, for the active little 35 mm Leica, slung over the shoulder, hung below the waist, or stuck in a capacious male pocket. That roving new camera lent itself to the often voyeuristically "candid" discovery or the artfully unrehearsed "quick draw" surprise of photo-journalism.

[21]   Stieglitz, writing just after the Great War to Annie W. Brigman, described his own new work as "Sharp and straight. Very direct — Yet different."17 (His correspondent may not have realized that this virile style signaled the end of her Salon successes, achieved with popular renderings of discretely misty nude nymphs, cavorting on California beaches or chasing frosted beach balls.) With a new postwar shift in emphasis from the amateur to the professional, the photography club scene was in eclipse. Fewer women entered this new professional fraternity than had formerly joined the clubs. Relentlessly unromantic, the approach of Straight photography was alien to the clubs' resolutely polite, middle-brow, Boy-meets-Girl constituency. Opposed to the imaginative, to the romantic, to the world of fantasy, the Straight school tended to the scientific and hard-edged, to the abstract, and to reportage.

[22]   Though highly expressive, even propagandistic, images could be taken under the Straight umbrella, these seldom suggested the photographer's presence or feelings; the man or woman behind the camera was just another machine, the unwitting, accidental witness to the 'right moment.' That phrase was a popular if deceptive photographic term of the '20's and '30's. Patient waiting for hours, days, weeks or even months for that significant second (with contributions sometimes made, however, to its genesis) was seldom acknowledged.

[23]   Most Salon photographers never had such problems or challenges. If the 'right' event or cloud didn't come along, they painted or printed these in or left such handiwork to an anonymous assistant in the darkroom. Artistic photography, with all its generative, dynamic, ambiguous, mysterious aspects, became obsolete, displaced by a photographic sharpshooter who won all the pictorial trophies.

[24]   More often than not, the moment was 'right' because it was profitable. Photo-journalism was lacking a narrator, the viewer becoming "I witness" to the right click. Wisely, practitioners of Artistic photography had never made an issue of 'Seeing as Believing'. Popular with the rise of Kodak, that oft-vouchsafed untruism "The Camera Never Lies" worked increasingly well once Straight photography became gospel. Only then could the most deceptive, propagandistic aspects of the medium have a field day, with the Straight photograph blindly taken for the truth and credited with intrinsic documentary accuracy.

[25]   Far more significant and fundamental associations of 'straight' with a preponderantly masculine world had already been made decades earlier and extended to other images and processes.18 Canvasses of conspicuously male content — depictions of laborers in heavy industry or scenes of male athletics — necessarily by, and usually for, men, were characterized as 'straight', as can be seen in a letter of 1902 written by the accomplished Philadelphia painter Thomas Anschutz. It may be the first use of the term in an exclusively masculine, approving fashion for the arts, predating Stieglitz's by fourteen years. Anschutz's "straight" art also signifies honesty, implying freedom from the subversion and distraction of womanly wiles, craft, or even presence.

[26]   A teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy, Anschutz noted that he was "disgusted to find more women than men" among the students attending his highly profitable summer art school. Anschutz claimed that only he, along with his male students, could be counted on to produce "man's paintings all straight."19 It is hard to avoid a phallic reading for this use of the term, and related aspects of gender almost always play a role in its employment.

[27]   'Straight' paintings, such as one by Anschutz's teacher Thomas Eakins, The Swimming Hole (Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth) of 1883, involved the artists's preparation of many photographs of naked young men. Like much of Eakins' camera work, this canvas and its title suggest the homoerotic.20

[28]   So the fact that Straight photography circles were to become narrowly professional and increasingly male is of special interest since its very name resonates with the sexual. To characterize sexual preference and practice the term "was probably generated in 19th-century homosexual circles, indicating a man attracted exclusively to women, still very much the current meaning of the phrase."21 In prison parlance, "going straight" meant more than turning from vice to virtue, also signifying a return from prison-induced or maintained homosexuality to free heterosexuality.22

[29]   'Straight' has an innate phallicism, intimating that its opposite — curvy or wavy — is devious, still tied to Eve's seductively mortal coils or to Mother's dangling apron strings. Most 'straight' associations lie within a conventionally masculine world. Men, not women, were considered "straight arrow." Men playing baseball, long considered an exclusively male sport, pitch a "straight" ball (over the plate). Taking your whiskey "straight" (unadulterated) was decidedly unladylike. (That same manner of downing hard liquor is "neat" in English parlance, doubtless too 'feminine' a characterization for American consumption.) Nor was the gamblers' game of poker — its best hand a Straight Flush — usually played in the Ladies' Card Room. For over half a century (ca. 1920-1970) Straight Photography effectively put the lid on most creative subjectivity or fantasy. Orthodox in attitude, it rejected any overt expression of the photographer's emotion or interpretation. His or her very presence was denied as inimical to the camera's vaunted objectivity. If any sensations were to be felt, they had to be the viewer's and were even then restricted to the areas of photo-journalism or advertising, with their infamous purposes of hidden, propagandistic persuasion. Indeed, it was in the remunerative world of advertising that Steichen, after converting to the Straight and narrow photographic aesthetic, applied many of the discoveries of Strand and other Modernists.

[30]   Naomi Rosenblum rediscovered the important pioneering career of Frances Benjamin Johnston, self-described as "making a business of photographic illustration and the writing of descriptive articles for magazines, illustrated weeklies and newspapers" in the 1890's, and of the similar activities of Jesse Tarbox Beals at about the same time.23 A few women, most notably Nellie Bly and Mary Heaton Vorse, succeeding in fighting their way into the journalistic fraternity, but for most of them, early photo-journalism presented impenetrable barriers. Very few persisted in this area, Inge Morath, a disciple of Henri Cartier-Bresson, being one. Hollywood glamorous and tough as any star, Margaret Bourke-White managed to hang in with the Lifeboys over the long haul, as did fellow photographer Nina Leen. Often the price of a woman's professional survival in a man's world — as Vicki Goldberg showed in her splendid Bourke-White biography24 — was the cultivation of a cut-throat, Queen Bee persona. This went along with a flair for self-promotion equal to that of the publications for which Bourke-White and so many other Depression era photographers worked. Goldberg noted that the glamorous Bourke-White was rumored to be fronting for some unknown male photographer in search of work during the Depression, no woman being thought capable of such hazardous, rough and ready camera work.

[31]   Few women could make their mark or living in advertising, the most lucrative photographic genre, despite the fact that most of its profits came from products directed at the 'homemaker', the proverbial Little Woman forever close to kitchen or bathroom. One of the first women whose camera images were used commercially was Myra Albert Wiggins, whose quaintly pictorial 'Hunger ist der beste Koch' (Hunger is the best cook) was stolen by Maltex to advertize its product.25 Among the exceptional women photographers with some early success in the tough world of Madison Avenue were Margaret Watkins, who worked for the J. Walter Thompson agency, and journalists like Bourke-White and Laura Albert-Guillot.

[32]   Except in Germany and France, the 'Straighter' the photographic practices, the fewer women seemed to have been allowed into the club. Käsebier's maternal themes became obsolete in the years of Sanger, Suffrage, and Depression. Mocked as "Granny Käsebier" by Stieglitz, who had previously been an admirer of her American Madonnas, she wisely switched to portrait photography and may have been the only woman to equal the late Edwardian success of Alice Boughton in that area, though her clientele was less powerful and less intellectually distinguished than Boughton's.26

[33]   Twentieth-century parents of necessarily virginal daughters — as babies and children, then as debutantes and brides — occasionally paid women photographers to furnish the required images in symbolic white; the portraits of wealthy men, however, were invariably by male photographers. Famous women camera workers such as Ylla had to content themselves with portraying cute kids and their pets.

[34]   Even portraitists like Lotte Jacobi and other female photographers who had enjoyed success and prestige in Germany27 nevertheless went nowhere professionally when refugees in America. As The Jewish Museum exhibition made clear,28 there were probably more independent women photographers in Weimar Germany than at any time in the U.S. Dorothea Lange's perceptive reportage (1936) of rural poverty for the Farm Security Administration produced images of profound sensitivity and respect, qualities also found in the work of Marion Post Wolcott for the same agency29 but absent from Margaret Bourke-White's sometimes crassly clinical, stagey, yet commercially successful You have seen their faces of 1937, with text by her husband Erskine Caldwell. Helen Levitt brought an unusually sympathetic eye to the joys and sorrows of growing up in New York.

[35]   Fashion photography, seldom a straight field in any sense of the word, still admits very few women; the brilliant Margaret Mather was among the best. A Weston protégée, Louise Dahl-Wolfe was another exception, along with Toni Frissell and Lillian Bassman (long Borodovitch's assistant at Harper's Bazaar). Recently Sarah Moon and Deborah Turbeville have joined their ranks.

[36]   In short and in general, a relentlessly masculine, proto-Cedar Bar ethos took over most photography, anticipating the 'Men Only' atmosphere of that hairy, Abstract Expressionist hangout. As is so often true in other professions, many of the successful fulltime professional women photographers had to become "one of the boys" or to 'belong' to them. Marion Post Wolcott, like many of her women colleagues who managed to carve out a career, was a very attractive individual who had to endure almost continual hassles from men in the field. Edward Weston was the lover and teacher of two of this century's most talented photographers, Tina Modotti and Margaret Mather. Post-revolutionary Russia, always open to women's equality in employment, whether as road-menders or cabinet ministers, had Galina Sankova as a fine example of a World War II photo-journalist. Lee Miller, a Voguecorrespondent at the war's end, made some of the most moving images of life in a concentration camp. Recently Susan Meiselas, another American, proved an excellent graphic reporter in the Nicaraguan wars.30 Many of the less privileged but talented women who survived as professionals often did so by resigning themselves to a marginal existence frequently verging upon poverty. Some found essential community and support in rigorously, demandingly Marxist or Lesbian circles — true for distinguished photographers like Gisele Freud, Tina Modotti, and Berenice Abbott. During the last forty years, leading if inadvertent agents of destruction of the reverence for Straight photography have been the intimate banality of home movies, the instant photogratification of Polaroid, along with television. Unorthodox new work, so often and significantly by gay men and women, has taken the narrow Straight photographic agenda by the horns, with little reverence for the rigidity of its increasingly sterile, purist canon. These new camera workers are among the readiest to reject the conventional images of 'reality' and 'objectivity', both so easily manipulable.

[37]   Willing to accept or recreate the fantasy of self, to reconstruct or deconstruct "normalcy, actuality, facade," gay men and women are open to entertain and exploit the experiences so long excluded by macho conventions in the Straight (and narrow) aesthetic. In fact the photographer is not invisible; his or her presence is, rather, affirmed by the image, however much 'Straights' might want to deny it. The anxiety of emotion is seemingly integral to the Straight aesthetic, with its exaltation of the heartless virtues of exterior actuality or 'objectivity'. This is not to say that the new anti-Straight agenda is without its problems — see for example the pretentious eternally Halloween images by Joel-Peter Witkin.

[38]   Too often involuntarily or deliberately reductive and limited to what the camera supposedly 'sees', much Straight photography fell into an 'Artistic' trap of its own — the nudes-into-peppers or vice versa syndrome, or the intellectually pretentious prints of the aptly named Minor White and his equally appropriately titled periodical,Aperture.

[39]   For several decades women more than men have felt free to insert a sense of reaction, of response, of horror and disgust into their work, calling attention to the image maker as much as to the sometimes repulsive fruit of their labor. Cindy Sherman's richly autobiographical, often raunchy, humorous images celebrate the variety of women's roles as encapsulated by her photographic fantasies, often collaged, colored, or otherwise 'woman-handled'. Lucas Samara's photo-essays in self-love, too often a Long Day's Journey into F. Holland Day, can still startle and provoke, his auto-Polaroids occasionally mirroring insight when not drowning in pools of narcissism.

[40]   The ultimate in the masculinization implicit among proponents of Straight photography can be found in two entries from the diary of one of its most distinguished pioneers, Edward Weston. The first entry — for August 2, 1923 — in his daybook was written on shipboard en route to Mexico, where Weston was to have his first one-person show. The young photographer sensed "a battle ahead to avoid being swept away by the picturesque, the romantic,"31 terms then almost synonymous with the cripplingly 'feminine' dimension of Artistic photography. Yet a profound identification with the "Feminine Mystique" in no way militated against Weston's belief in male superiority. Tina Modotti, Weston's lover and student, recalled his delight in cross-dressing, in quite literally taking upon himself the external, applied attributes of the Other, almost as though women's clothing were too powerful to be left exclusively within their purlieu.32

[41]   Immensely relieved and satisfied by his favorable critical reception in Mexico City, Weston noted in another daybook entry that he had never before received such appreciation, all the more valuable since this approval came from an audience of "men — men — men — ten to one woman."33 That's just about the ratio of successful American male photographers to female equivalents, all now adherents of the Straight School.




  1. Patricia Bosworth, Diane Arbus. A Biography, New York, 1984, p. 243. back
  2. Oxford, p. 151. back
  3. A somewhat confusing reference to this movement is provided by Naomi Rosenblum in her A History of Women Photographers, Abbeville, New York, 1994, p. 94. She relates its genesis to Pictorialist currents associated with P. H. Emerson. back
  4. Naomi Rosenblum, A World History of Photography, New York, 1984, p. 267. back
  5. Käsebier's and Brigman's many associates across the country included Miss Allen, Mary Carnell, Rose Clark, Grace Cook, Mary Devens, Emma Farnsworth, Zaida ben-Yusuf, Helen Plummer Gatch, Frances B. Johnston, and Adelaide Hanscom Leeson. Other successful pre-War women photographers were Mary S. Perkins, Josephine Debitsch Peary, Jane Reece, Ema Spencer, Mary A. Stanbery, Clara Sipprell, Mathilde Weil, Myra Albert Wiggins, and Louise Deshong Woodbridge. back
  6. See Redding S. Sugg, Motherteacher: The Feminization of American Education, Charlottesville, Va., 1978. back
  7. See Robert Goldwater, "Teaching of Art History:" [Artemas Packard]. "Mr. Packard's Report on the Museum of Modern Art." Mimeographed typescript, 1936, Fine Arts Library, Harvard College, 20. back
  8. For Day, see Estelle Jussim, Slave to Beauty. The Eccentric Life and Career of F. Holland Day, Boston, 1981. back
  9. "Straight Photography", Trace and Transformation, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 1995, Chapter 2, 52 – 78. See also James B. Colson, "Stieglitz, Strand, and Straight Photography",Perspectives on Photography, edited by Dave Oliphant and Thomas Zigal, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, 1982, pp.102 – 23. back
  10. Germany would prove to be far more open to women photographers active in the Straight mode than was the case in America. An enlightening exhibition devoted to Women Photographers of the Weimar Republic (Jewish Museum, 1995) showed how many talented camera workers of the Modern genre worked successfully in Germany between the first War and the rise of Nazism. back
  11. For this series see Benita Eisler, An American Romance, Stieglitz and O'Keeffe, New York, 1991, pp. 183-9. back
  12. Amateur American Photographer, March, 1904. back
  13. Eisler, pp. 235-7, 280-1. back
  14. Peter Pollack, The Pictorial History of Photography, New York, 1958, p. 282. back
  15. He would divorce and remarry many times. For Stieglitz too a personal liberation would coincide with an espousal of Straight photography. Leaving his disturbed daughter and rich, indulgent wife and jettisoning his (or better said, her) costly role as underwriter of Camera Work, Stieglitz, though ever a recipient of parental financial support, was now in a sense on his own for the first time, with some modest sense of independence beginning in the early '40's. back
  16. Op. cit., p. 335. back
  17. Stieglitz Archive, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University. back
  18. Since preparing this article, Judith Fryer Davidov [Women's Camera Work: Self/Body/Other in American Visual Culture, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 1998] has provided highly illuminating contrasts between Stieglitz' quasi-misogyny and Clarence White's sympathy for women's photographic skills [see her pages 90-93]. Davidov quotes Alfred Stieglitz as criticizing White for allowing himself to be "deified by his stupid pupils, mostly women"[p. 90 and note 98, p. 408]. back
  19. Letter to F. Cresson Schell, June 22, 1902, Archives of American Art, roll 140; cited by Randall C. Griffin, "Thomas Anschutz's The Ironworkers' Noontime — Remythologizing the Industrial Worker," Smithsonian Studies in American Art, Summer/Fall 1990, p. 141. back
  20. Randall C. Griffin, "Thomas Eakins' Construction of the Male Body, or Men Get to Know Each Other Across the Space of Time,"Oxford Art Journal, 18:2, pp. 70-80. back
  21. A Dictionary of American English, Chicago, 1949, IV, p. 2245. back
  22. H. L. Mencken, The American Language, New York, 1963, II, p. 1176 (citing G. W. Henry, Sexual Variants). back
  23. Rosenblum, 1984, p. 361. back
  24. Vicki Goldberg, Margaret Bourke-White: a biography, New York, 1987. back
  25. Roger Hull's "Myra Wiggins and Helen Gatch — Conflicts in American Pictorialism," History of Photography, Summer 1992, 152-67, tells of little known women in the Pictorialist movement. I am indebted to Victoria Goldberg and to Maria Naylor for information and for many helpful suggestions. back
  26. I have benefitted from Barbara Michael's dissertation on Gertrude Käsebier, and from an article by Vicki Goldberg in the Sunday Arts Supplement, The New York Times, June 28, 1992, p. 29. back
  27. Among other successful German women in the field were Alice Lex Nehrlinger, Ilse Bing, Germaine Krull, and Lisette Model. back
  28. See note 6 above. back
  29. For Wolcott see Sally Stein, Marion Post Wolcott: FSA Photographs, Carmel, Calif., 1983; Maren Stange,Symbols of Ideal Life: Social Documentary Photography in America: 1890-1950 Cambridge, 1989; and Maurice Berger, "FSA: The Illiterate Eye," in his How Art Became History, New York, 1992. For the most recent monograph (Paul Hendrickson, Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott, New York, 1992), see the review by Katherine Dieckmann in The Voice, Aug. 11, 1992, pp. 92-3, with its fine survey of the pertinent literature. back
  30. For further discussion of women in photography, see articles in the issue of that name in History of Photography, Autumn 1994. back
  31. Pollack, p. 323. back
  32. Information accompanying Tina Modotti : PhotographsPhiladelphia Museum of Art, September 16th – November 26th, 1995. back
  33. Pollack, p. 323. back