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Kate Fogle

Library of Congress, USA

Picturing Partnership: Re-envisioning Occupational Relationships in the Realm of Early Women’s Commercial Photography

Picturing Partnership _ Kate Fogle 01
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Unlike the oft proliferated fabrication that women were mainly sitters in front of rather than the seeing eyes behind the early photographic lens, the ripples of their camera work have grown wider and more frequent in our contemporary discourse. With recent books and articles tracing clear and significant lines around the commercial female photographer of the 19th and early 20th centuries, this notion of the rarity of women in this trade presumes itself true only by the lack of proper historical attention provided over years of male-centered scholarship and image acquisition. Myriad examples of female commercial photographers exist with only minimal research needed to unearth their extant oeuvres, and this digging reveals women partners—both in business and life—like Minnie Wachtman and Margaret Foster. This pair, like numerous others, lived and worked together, fusing business with the mundanities of a life committed to each other. With The Elite Studio, they operated along Riverside Avenue in Spokane, Washington, U.S.A., one photographic establishment among many therein, finding acceptance in the normalcy of their trade and anonymity in the passage of time. By extracting their story from nearly a century’s worth of erasure, an ever-widening vantage of photographic history emerges, one with a more inclusive narrative that better represents the ubiquity of women image-makers, the space they took up as respected professionals, and their trade’s flexible parameters regarding sexuality and the notions of partnership.

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