Caroline M. Riley
University of California, Davis, and Library of Congress, USA
The Relationship Between Thérèse Bonney’s Self-Fashioning and Her Photographic Collection
My paper nuances feminist studies by introducing to the art history canon Thérèse Bonney (1894–1978), a pioneering yet overlooked photographer. It explores her self-fashioning as a photographer, collector, journalist, business owner, and curator to consider how her daguerreotype collection legitimized her professional identity. Indeed, Bonney mounted at least fourteen exhibitions in Europe and the United States, including MoMA’s exhibition of her work in 1940—the first dedicated to a woman. Bonney’s influential The Second Empire by Louis-Jacques Daguerre and His School displayed 151 daguerreotypes at the Knoedler Gallery and SAAM in 1934. The display was an important predecessor to Beaumont Newhall’s famed Photography: 1839–1937 on view at MoMA in 1937. He even sought to purchase her collection, but Bonney refused. Further, Robert Taft, in his definitive Photography and the American Scene (1938) notes the importance of Bonney as the ‘foremost daguerreotype collector in the world’ (pg. 92). In hand with her collections was her artistic practice and her role as owner of the Bonney Service. My paper considers how the eighty portraits by and of Bonney contributed to the mythmaking of the modern female artist. Much more scholarship has been devoted to male mythology than to how women actively fashioned their professional identities. With the Bonney Service, the first woman-owned illustrated press service in Europe, Bonney wielded extraordinary power, handpicking fashion photos for the pages of major news outlets like The New York Times and, consequently, shaping the public’s perception of professional women. I argue that, in a new age of rapid worldwide distribution of images, Bonney’s photographs shaped viewers’ perceptions of women’s roles, and her art collections were essential in her self-fashioning and legitimizing her professional identity.