Women and Photography

by Edna R. Bennett

from Universal Photo Almanac 1937

Careers for women! I wonder how much paper mileage has been covered on this subject. More than anyone would care to count as the number of “sweet girl graduates” continues to grow year by year. Amazingly enough, as far as women are concerned, the field of photography is still uncrowded. It is a constant source of wonder to me that this field of endeavor so admirably suited to women’s talents is so often passed by. The desire for expression is something which few women lack. You will find it in the woman who is a homemaker as easily as you will in the woman who is a “careerist”.

Any woman who has developed her natural talents of patience, observation and the will to work should find a responsive spark in the study of photography. By no means is photography an easy job, but too much mystery has been allowed to shroud this work. It is necessary that one should spend time in carefully learning the fundamentals of photography. There are excellent schools and teachers who will make the path of learning easier. You must have a sturdy foundation upon which to build future success. You would not expect to attain a reputation as a famous cook because you have mastered the art of broiling steak. One clove of garlic does not make a chef!

Perhaps you are at a loss to know why I think patience heads the list of requirements for the successful photographer. It is an attribute that is the basis of success in following the road of the lens hound. Pictures are not made in a few minutes. You will find it well nigh impossible to become a master photographer by merely pressing the button. Pictures require thought every step of the way. Even the lowly daisy doesn’t “just grow”.

One must add that there are always lucky accidents. One of my most successful studies was taken in five seconds. Yes, it was luck but the picture had been planned for days ahead. The setup was complete and waiting for the model. He had a thorough grasp of the problem in hand before starting to work. He crossed to the set: “Is this what you want?” There was no need to answer. The picture had been taken. It was what I wanted and more than I hoped to get. And with all this preparation I still say it was a lucky picture.

The general run of picture taking involves waiting for the right moment to expose, arrangement of props and choice of camera angle[.] Take an architectural subject for example. More often than not the sun will disappear just as you are about to shoot. Sometimes the clouds are not in the right position. It is not uncommon for the ardent worker to spend hours and hours waiting for the right moment. That’s what it takes to make a picture. There is no thrill on earth like the thrill of perfection. It’s something akin to greeting the dawn on the topper-most mountain peak.

You can readily understand why observation plays such a big part in photography. People who have eyes and see not make very poor photographers. It is the unusual which rings the bell in the world of today, though not everyone is moved by the same objects. Some of us will follow the drums looking for the perfection of beauty. It may well be a striking woman or a gorgeous blossom. Others will find that they respond to the homier subjects found in everyday life. Follow your flare wherever it leads!

The will to work is what makes the endeavor go round and round. You must want something in order to get it done.

What others have done, you can do. To name a few of the outstanding women photographers of to-day, there is Margaret Bourke-White. She is tremendously successful in doing Industrial and Advertising photography. You have only to look at her work to know that she enjoys doing it. She is using her talents to express that which has the most appeal to her. In the field of Portraiture, Dorothy Wilding of London, does some of the most lauded studies in the world. She has developed her sense of observation to the point of putting people on paper with that indefinable something which is greatness. As a pictorialist, Christine Fletcher chose Still Life as her medium of expression. A bunch of onions or beautiful flower arrangements carry her messages of beauty. She stands today, second to none, in this branch of photography.

These three experts in such widely separated fields of expression all started with the same groundwork. They too, had to learn the fundamentals of photography before they could scale the heights of individual expression. Master the technique of photography so that it will become a flexible tool with which you create. You are striving to give concrete form to impressions which have been filtered through your personality.

What woman’s magazine can you turn to that is not fully illustrated with photographs? Each issue of these periodicals seems to set a higher standard of interest. Women almost invariably write the cooking, the gardening and the articles on baby growing. It is logical to suppose that the woman who wrote the article could best show the points of interest. This particularly applies to the free lance writer. She does not have the money to pay for illustrations, but could so easily make her own with a nominal amount of expense.

Take for instance, the woman who loves gardening. She spends all her leisure time playing nursemaid to some outlandish plant that no one else can grow. Success gives impetus to the desire to tell others of her plant growing. The article is written. Perhaps an ordinary snapshot is included. It might that the article is of sufficient interest to be bought. But, nine times out of ten, it will be returned. How much better if the woman had been able to take several long shots of her garden arrangement, close-ups of the plant in question, or pictures showing different stages of growth. Interest is sustained by visual expression. The story has many more chances of finding its way to the printed page. Readers will turn to the pictures first and if interest is maintained, they will investigate the “hows and whys”.

Women make excellent portrait photographers. They can use to the fullest extent their poise and desire to make people feel at ease. The tactful hostess strives to please her guests. The woman photographer can use these capabilities in portraiture. Most people are either fidgety or nervous when sitting for a portrait, but will relax before the woman cameraist. It is a natural instinct in women to create a feeling of ease and naturalness towards strangers. Women sitting for their portraits are at ease knowning that the woman photographer will consider her personal vanities. A great deal of work in portraiture has been with men. Someone once said—Take away a man’s tobacco and his coffee and you will have a mad person on your hands. Give him his tobacco and coffee! Create an atmosphere of naturalness. Responsiveness to this treatment will show in your finished prints. You will be proud of your work.

Child portraiture is a niche which is admirably suited to women photographers. Perhaps it is the maternal instinct which all women are supposed to possess. You will find that children respond quickly to atmospheric conditions. They love to play-act and will strive to please when interest is aroused. Ring in your patience for another round, for there is no limit to the amount of questioning. Women who are attracted to children will find it easy to gain their confidence. Expressive portraits will be no small part of the pleasure derived from working with children. Here’s a bit of a thought from a sturdy five year old: “I’ll let you know when I feel right. You can be working the camera”.

The field of advertising photography holds great possibilities for women. Does a woman know more about how to display shoes so that they will catch the eye of a prospective buyer? Does a woman understand the appeal in new kitchen models? You bet she does. Most advertising literature is aimed at the woman buyer. So, why not women behind the scenes to make these pictures? A new spoon may be only a new spoon to most people. A maker of expressive photographs will able to show that spoon so that a person’s reaction will not only be “I want that”, but “I am going to have that”. She knows the feminine slant.

We go on from the woman who follows a career to those who follow hobbies. You would have to go far to find a more satisfying hobby than photography. There is no limit to ways and means of transferring ideas into finished prints. One can run the length of emotions in pictures. Seriousness, beauty, gaiety, humor, sadness, you can portray them all with your camera. Your natural desire to show your finished work can be gratified by the numerous photographic exhibitions held throughout the world. Here you will find keen competition to spur you on to greater work. It is a goal well worth striving for to have prints accepted for showing in our National and International salons. One of the keenest pleasures that photography gives us is to see, on the walls of your own home, a print artistically and technically satisfying.

Of great interest to some is the fact that your hobby can be made to pay for itself. There are many, many, magazines, pamphlets, newspapers and industrial bulletins that buy outstanding photographic work. It may be an every day occurrence in your home town that will make a splendid magazine illustration. You may have just the picture that is needed to illustrate a story, a poem, or an advertisement. You will be amazed when you investigate the possibilities of selling your photographs. You enjoyment of achievement will be enhanced a hundred fold by a self-supporting hobby. For that matter, I know a professional woman photographer who dedicates one third of what she earns with her camera to buying materials for pictures for her own pleasure. That’s how badly bitten some of these photographers become. It gets into your blood. You begin to see pictures everywhere and at anytime. It is a thrilling sport to chase them down. No matter if it is catching the newsboy reading the funnies or a superb arrangement of glimmering satin.

Photography is a profession that calls on all the faculties a woman possesses. Ability to talk easily and naturally with all kinds of people, ability to fold textiles, to arrange fruit and flowers, to read characteristic expressions, to see spot news, to respond to the beauty of design and structure; all these she will use in her business of harnessing the power of photography. It is true that woman has certain disadvantages in the realm of business photography. Men still cling to the supposition that women cannot handle jobs requiring technical knowledge. It is a common fallacy that women are more easily side tracked and will not stick to the job in hand until it is completed. These obstacles can be easily conquered by the serious, competent worker who produces and do have advantages. People will help a woman when she shows the desire to go forward. Her natural talents stand her in good stead. Perhaps it is much harder for a woman to break into the game, but her sustaining power is much greater once the ground is broken.

In photography a profitable vocation is the question uppermost in the minds of budding “careerists”? One can say yes forcefully. The profits can be counted in direct ratio to the amount of skill and hard work plus originality raised to the Nth power.

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