Her Majesty

American Annual of Photography 1927

Jessie Tarbox Beals turned 50 in 1920, and the decade began with career accolades worthy of a woman who had worked hard at her craft for the previous twenty years. Several of her photos were exhibited in 1921 and 1922 in shows in Toronto and Buffalo. Beals began to focus some of her energy on poetry, for which she had found a gift when making the Greenwich Village postcards. After a few of her poems were published, she joined the League of American Pen Women, an organization promoting women writers. In 1921, enthusiastic about belonging to such a prestigious organization, Beals offered to take the other members’ portraits at no charge. This kind offer did not aid her declining financial situation, but added images to her growing print library. She was constantly re-printing photographs for new attempts at publication, sometimes mounting smaller prints onto cardstock to attract buyers. Women photographers were becoming more common each year, making Beals a less unique or automatic choice for commissions. Beals herself may have contributed to the competition with her talks at clubs and on the radio, which often dispensed advice to aspiring women photographers. While a popular figure on the lecture circuit, Beals found herself growing older and not able to “hustle” for pictures as she had done in her youth.

Nevertheless, in 1926 and 1927 Beals rented a luxury two-story apartment and studio on East 57th Street where she entertained in style. The number of portraits she was taking, and thus her income, continued to decline, perhaps due to increased competition. However, she continued to engage in a variety of projects to support herself, including taking photos to illustrate a popular children’s book, Your Workshop by Edna Plimpton (1926). Eventually Beals decided to focus on garden photography, a field in which she had been active for several years, although had not taken seriously as its excitement value was less than that of news events and bohemian goings-on. In her later years, less excitement proved a good thing and provided steady work. She had contributed twenty-nine photos to Beautiful Gardens in America, a 1915 book by Louise Sheldon, and several more to the enlarged 1924 edition. In 1927 Beals started photographing small gardens in Greenwich Village, then began to get requests from magazines and residents for photos of large estates on Long Island and in Westchester County. Her garden photos from this time period were published in Town and Country, Harper’s Bazaar, Ladies’ Home Journal, and other magazines. Beals did not consider the focus on a more staid subject to be a tragedy; her notes for a lecture given in the late 1920s read, “My advice to you is ‘Be different.’ Do things in an original way — arrange your groups artistically, not in a stereotypical manner — take your houses from an interesting angle.”

From Guide to the Jessie Tarbox Beals Photograph Collection [1900-1940]