America’s First Famous Woman Photographer

written by: John Wade

In the early days of photography its pursuit was considered a male preserve. Ladies of the late 19th century, it was chauvinistically suggested, didn’t need to worry their pretty little heads about the complications of using a camera. As for those nasty, smelly chemicals—well, it was all best left to the men folk. Frances Benjamin Johnston was probably the first American woman to seriously challenge that idea. Johnston was born in West Virginia in 1864 and had two good starts to her career. Her father, Anderson Doniphan Johnston, was a clerk at the US Treasury. Her mother, Frances Antoinette Benjamin, Read more »


The Man Who Built the World’s Biggest Camera

written by: John Wade

The year was 1899. The Chicago and Alton Railway Company had built what they called “the handsomest train in the world.” Now they wanted a picture of it. They called in Chicago photographer George R. Lawrence, and he suggested that he would shoot the largest picture in the world—and to accomplish this, he would build the world’s biggest camera. It was a bold statement, but Lawrence ran a studio whose slogan was “The Hitherto Impossible in Photography Is Our Specialty.” If anyone could do it, he could. In 1888, at the age of 20, Lawrence already had a reputation as Read more »

Daguerrotype, Unidentified, 1840's.

Introduction to Identifying 19th Century Images

written by: Maureen Taylor

Tucked away in family collections, archives and museums are stunning examples of nineteenth century photographic talent. A customer in a photo studio in 1860 could choose from a wide variety of photographic methods—a shiny metal daguerreotype, a glass ambrotype, a varnished tintype or a paper print.  For the contemporary viewer, each of these techniques has distinctive qualities that make them readily identifiable. Daguerreotypes While there were individuals experimenting with the daguerreotype process in 1839, the first daguerreotypes appeared in America in 1840 in the hands of Francois Gouraud a contemporary of the inventor, Louis Daguerre. Gouraud traveled throughout the United Read more »


The Camera that Changed the Face of Photography

written by: John Wade

In its early days, photography was a complicated business, a pursuit taken up only by professionals or extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable amateurs. In 1888, along came a camera that changed all that. It had no complicated controls and instead of taking pictures on individual glass plates, as had previously been the case, it used a roll of film. Until then the word ‘snapshot’ referred to a gunshot fired quickly without seriously aiming at a fast-moving target. But now the word took on a new meaning. Snapshot photography for the masses arrived with a camera aimed at (and bought by) people Read more »