Mathew Brady, William Henry Jackson and Edward Steichen dominate the pictorial record at the turn of the 20th century.
In 2016, London’s Tate Britain curator Carol Jacobi said of the history of photography, “people are not expecting women to be there, so they don’t look for their work.”
“We Lead, Others Follow,” opening at the Albuquerque Museum March 6, aims to change that focus through the work of five Albuquerque photographers. The exhibition runs through Nov. 14.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize women have been involved in photography as long as they have,” museum digital archivist Jillian Hartke said. “That’s the purpose of this show.”
Mrs. Franc Emma Luce Albright ran Mrs. Albright’s Art Parlor in Albuquerque from 1882-1912. Albright learned photography from her sister in the 1870s. Her eye for portraiture matched her business acumen. Albright launched a chain of female-mentored photographers in Albuquerque that would continue well into the 20th century.
“She was kind of a high society photographer,” Hartke said. “She would go to New York and get supplies. She went to the World’s Fairs as part of the New Mexico delegation. Her daughter was a world-class opera singer. She would leave the studio in control of her assistant and travel the world with her daughter.”
Albright’s friend Eddie Cobb ran her own studio with her husband William from 1889-1942. Eddie came to New Mexico from New York with her sister, who had tuberculosis. William Cobb died of the disease in 1909, leaving Eddie to run the studio for the next three decades. The couple had four children, two of whom became photographers.
Cobb passed on her knowledge to her daughter Daphne, shown reading a Kodak manual in a portrait by her mother.
One of 13 siblings, Alabama Milner came to New Mexico from her namesake state with her sister and nephew, both of whom suffered from tuberculosis.
“Her parents died when she was young,” Hartke said. “She was trained at the Southern School of Tennessee.”
The institution was the world’s sole school dedicated to the teaching of photography.
Milner learned to develop negatives and the use of lighting and props through six months of classes.
“She was very successful,” Hartke said. “She never marries, but she raises some of her nieces and nephews.”
Ottilia Hanna, of Hanna & Hanna, was a savvy businesswoman who spoke several languages. She emigrated from Russia in 1908 and married Milton Edmond Hanna in Illinois. The pair came to Albuquerque and opened their studio in the mid-1910s. Ottilia’s ability to communicate with anyone contributed heavily to the success and longevity the studio developed. The couple were friends with Albuquerque Mayor Clyde Tingley and took many photos of him at the theatrical photo ops Tingley favored.
Florence Potter’s studio was the shortest-lived and most mysterious of the five. She arrived here with her father in 1901 and opened Potter Studio shortly after.
“She never goes by Florence,” Hartke said. “She goes by F.E. I wonder if that was to hide the fact that she’s a woman.”
Potter’s Studio was featured in the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. By 1910, she and her mother had moved to Los Angeles.
“This wasn’t just a hobby; this was their passion,” Hartke said of the five. “These are incredibly good photographs, whether they’re men or women.
“These are probably not the only women photographers of the time,” she added. “These are the ones that have survived.”
In June, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will open the exhibition “New Woman Behind the Camera,” covering women photographers from the 1920s through the 1950s.