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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Ema Spencer

Dates:  1857 - 1941, 30 August
Born:  US, OH, Brownsville
Died:  US, NJ, Newark
Active:  US
One of her works, "Girl with Parasol", was included in Camera Work in 1909.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Ema Spencer
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Born in Brownsville, Ohio, in 1857, Ema Spencer seems to have spent much of her life in nearby Newark. After graduating from high school there, she attended Shepardson College for Women, in Granville, Ohio, and worked for a time as a schoolteacher. Interested in promoting literacy, she operated a lending library out of her Newark home and served on the board of the New York Public Library. About twenty years before she was born, Spencerís prominent family founded the Newark Advocate, a newspaper for which she eventually wrote art and theater reviews and a long-running social column.
In early 1898, Spencer helped found the Newark Camera Club. In November of the same year, she wrote an article for Brush and Pencil on the club, whose most promising member was the young Clarence H. White, soon to become a prominent American pictorialist and photographic teacher. Spencer promoted White by organizing an exhibition of his work for the Boston Camera Club in 1899, writing the catalog introduction for his solo show at the Camera Club of New York in 1900, and contributing an article on the "White School" to Camera Craft, in July 1901.
Spencerís own photographs usually pictured women and children, carefully posed and sensitively lit, often set in her home studio. Reproductions of her work appeared in Englandís Photograms of the Year between 1901 and 1910, except for 1902. In this country, they were seen in the Photographic Times in December 1902 and the American Annual of Photography 1903.
Spencer exhibited her pictures beginning with the Newark Camera Clubís first show in 1898 and continued to do so for the next fifteen years. She was most active until 1906, when her prints were accepted by the photographic salons in Chicago, London, and Philadelphia. During the same period, her work was also seen in exhibitions in Dresden, Hamburg, Worcester, Wiesbaden, and Turin, where she won a silver medal in 1902. In 1912, Clarence H. White included pictures by her in An Exhibition Illustrating the Progress of the Art of Photography, presented at the Montross Art Galleries, New York. In 1914, her photographs were seen in the annual exhibition of Londonís Royal Photographic Society, and, to cap off her career, in a solo show at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.
Alfred Stieglitz chose one of her pictures for the inaugural exhibition of the Photo-Secession at the National Arts Club, New York, but did not allow her to join his exclusive group until 1907. Subsequently, he included her work in the 1907 membersí show at the Little Galleries, New York, the 1909 exhibition back at the National Arts Club, and the International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography, presented at the Albright Art Gallery, in Buffalo. The January 1909 issue of Stieglitzís quarterly Camera Work featured a photogravure by Spencer, picturing a young woman with a parasol, in natural illumination. Ema Spencer died in Newark, on August 30, 1941. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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