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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Catharine Weed Barnes

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Other: Catharine Weed Barnes Ward 
Other: Catharine Weed Ward 
Dates:  1851 - 1913
Active:  US
An American photographer and editor of The American Amateur Photographer. An early champion of the role of women in photography.
Peter E. Palmquist, Catharine Weed Barnes Ward: Pioneer Advocate for Women in Photography (Arcata, CA: Peter E. Palmquist, 1992),
The Photographic Times and American Photographer, December 27, 1889, Vol.XIX, No.432, p.652-653.
[Read before the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York.]
I have been asked to say something to-night on photography viewed from a woman's stand-point. Having trained myself to look at it simply as a worker, you must pardon me if I, occasionally, in the interest of the subject, step off my own special platform. I can only excuse myself for saying any thing by the fact of my absorbing interest in this work; combining, as it does, the exactness of scientific truth with the keen pleasure of artistic effort.
Less than four years ago I set up my first camera after much study and many conjectures as to where the image would appear. If discouragement was possible it would have come that first year, for even my inexperienced eyes could see the work was poor. Then acquaintance with a professional friend who knew how to criticise sharply began to have its due effect, and, by his advice, I joined this society nearly two years ago, as the camera club in our benighted city of Albany does not admit ladies. It was a fortunate step for me, as words cannot express my gratitude towards this society for the numerous benefits received from it, and I only wish it were possible to oftener attend its meetings. (In this connection let me thank you for granting my application to become an active member).
In the course of what my friends are pleased to call a "craze" I have found that eye and mind have gained, the one, new power of observation, the other, a broader delight and appreciation of the world about us. Every step in city or country now presents a picture that once would have been overlooked, and every long journey is fuller than ever before of pleasure and benefit. While previous work in art schools and painters' studios has not been wasted, it has yielded place to the mysteries of the dark-room, and the subject Is viewed through the sharp eye of a long or short focus lens as may be required, for side by side with the love of art was a latent love of science. It might be called a case of transferred affection, for my hydrometer and graduates seem as beautiful now as once did a new set of brushes and palette, while my myriad collection of bottles, scales, etc., rival the finest colors from Schoenfeld or Winsor and Newton. No knowledge, we are told, is ever really lost, but it sometimes performs a kind of transmigration into some other branch of learning; the training gained in various reading and dramatic clubs has many times aided me in posing a sitter as well as preparing to take an interior.
Speaking from a woman's standpoint, I must confess that landscape work is not ordinarily pleasant, especially in cities where the ubiquitous small boy predominates and seems to rise from the earth at sight of a camera. This and other annoyances do not apply to interiors which, though difficult work, are exceedingly satisfactory if well done, and which make peculiarly suitable work for ladies who possess the requisite taste and patience'. I must say that very few people, except practical photographers, really appreciate the best points of a fine interior, and do not realize that the picture, to take which one has had to purchase an expensive lens and spend the greater part of a morning or afternoon in focusing, exposing and developing, to say nothing of the subsequent printing, etc., is worth any more than the chance shot of the most ordinary snap camera. Interiors have been shown me with vertical and horizontal lines on what might be called the bias, furniture deprived of all visible means of support, more or less halation, and, if figures were introduced, placed so the light directly faced them. It seems to me that this branch of photography has by no means received proper attention and that it is exceedingly valuable in its results.
More difficult still, and therefore more interesting, is portraiture, from the simplest outdoor view to the most carefully posed sitter under the skylight. Human nature takes on very odd phases, and one needs the eyes of Argus and the patience of Job to see that the work is well done. But there is excitement and thorough satisfaction in a well-taken portrait, especially if the subject admits of being dressed and posed to illustrate some historical, mythological, or other fancy of the artist, when, if sitter and artist are en rapport, a world of beautiful ideas may be evolved.
Mr. Seavey painted two of my backgrounds in soft shades, but left the third for me to draw my own designs, to be removed when desired for others. There is a rod with rings in front of and high above the backgrounds on which to hang curtains, while rugs, furniture, and the conservatory are laid under contribution when needed. No trouble is too great when it is repaid by a good picture. Three out of my nine lenses belong in the studio. One is a 3B. Dall, for large heads and the two others are Voigtlander Euryscopes, one of which is the new W. A. Portrait and Group lens. This last has proved absolutely necessary, as my studio is only 9x19, and with it I can take a fulllength panel figure at less than eight feet distance. All my developers are made in the dark-room near at hand by hydrometer and scales, and I have just built an emulsion closet for coating lantern-slides. My other lenses are three Dall., one Ross, one Optimus, and one Morrison. Having a good lantern, I generally try my slides before submitting them to your keen scrutiny. My first test-night experience here was very instructive. I had requested that my name be not mentioned, so that the full benefit of your unbiased judgment might be given, as it was, very fully, to my edification and profit. I am a thorough believer in lantern-slide exhibitions and enjoy making slides, as it is much easier than developing negatives. Here let me testify to my intense respect for eikonogen; no other developer shall henceforth touch my slides. I believe thoroughly in its future capabilities, but have only tried it on slides and bromides. I use a single solution, and it requires careful management from the first to the last step of the process, as its rapidity of working seems marvelous. My only lesson in slide-making was watching Mr. T. C. Roche expose and develop one, and I was then told to go ahead, which I have tried to do ever since. I have seen very little of other ladies' photographic work, but have sought for information wherever it could be found, especially here, where the feeling of comradeship is strong enough to lead many of you to take infinite pains with beginners like myself. Such treatment contrasts forcibly with that of a recent writer in the Photographic News, signing himself "Perplexed," who gives a number of objections to lady photographers enjoying club privileges. Those of you who see the American Amateur Photographer may find some comments on the above-mentioned writer's statements in the December number.
One point more and I have finished. There is a suggestion I would like to make to our representatives on the Joint Exhibition Committee. It may possibly be favored by no other lady competitor, perhaps not by the committee, but I wish to urge it strongly.
It is to abolish the so-called "Ladies' Diploma or Prize." My reasons can be briefly stated. It is not a complimentary distinction, although intended as such, and is considered by outsiders as implying that the lady who wins it competes only against other ladies, which greatly lessens the value of the prize. If I had known before receiving it, at Boston, that at the same time a prize for a special subject was to be given to another lady, I should have hesitated about accepting the diploma. Good work is good work whether it be by man or woman, and poor is poor by the same rule. If the work of men and women is admitted to the same exhibition it should be on equal terms. Do not admit a woman's pictures because they are made by a woman, but because they are made well. If the work is poor reject it. Do not, when she wins a prize, allow the inference to be drawn that it is her's only by courtesy. Let her feel that she has won it fairly in a free field. You admit her to your deliberations, place her work on your walls and on your lantern screen, can you not offer your prizes simply for certain kinds of work and allow the question of sex to be laid aside?
Miss Catharine Weed Barnes.

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Catharine Weed Barnes
Catherine Weed Barnes 
1890, 29 August (published)
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