Nicole Hudgins

University of Baltimore, USA

If They Were There, Why Aren’t They There? Reflections on the Remarkable Women of Photography’s Origins and Their Invisibility in the Primary and Scholarly Sources

Nicole Hudgins
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Photography did not arrive in the early nineteenth century pre-gendered. New scientific knowledge and camera technology attracted the interest of both sexes in the 1840s. Yet even today, early photography’s historiography remains stubbornly masculinist, not only in its emphasis on the paternity of the medium, but in its most prominent themes and concerns. Why does the history of photography remain imbalanced despite forty years of scholarly intervention? A misperception that is corrected time and time again, the idea that photography had only fathers and no mothers was the product of a long campaign to promote the medium as a ‘masculine’ profession, with all that that implied. This presentation will reintroduce some of the earliest women in photography (1839-1850), and theorize why it was necessary that they be ‘forgotten’ in the 19th and 20th century literature. I re-approach the contributions of early British, French, and North American women, who played diverse roles from studio proprietor to experimental assistant to patent watchdog. Then, using period sources and sociological theory, I suggest why early photographic history was scrubbed of women and ‘femininity.’ The story is complex; not only did early institutions insist on ‘masculine’ modes of time and speech, but photography itself came to be associated with ‘unladylike’ activity