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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Mary Devens

Dates:  1857 - 1920, 13 March
Born:  US, MA, Cambridge
Died:  US, MA, Cambridge
Member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Mary Devens
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Mary Devens, who never married, was born and lived her entire life in Cambridge, Massachusetts. By 1884, she was making straightforward photographs of individuals, landscapes, and architecture, before venturing into pictorial work.
Devens befriended the fellow Bostonian F. Holland Day, who encouraged her and promoted her work in lectures and exhibitions. In 1895, she joined the Old Cambridge Camera Club, and the next year traveled to Europe, where she learned the gum-bichromate process. She shared information on this highly manipulative technique with the club and was one of the earliest Americans to master it. She was highly praised for her creative portraits, gum prints, and ozotypes, another type of print that allowed handwork to the image.
Devens exhibited her work both at home and abroad. Beginning in 1897, she showed regularly in the annual presentations of the Old Cambridge Camera Club. Over the next five years, her work appeared in photographic salons in Chicago, London, and Philadelphia. In 1900, Day included ten of her pieces in his milestone show The New School of American Photography, presented at London’s Royal Photographic Society and the Photo-Club de Paris. He also featured her as one of only eleven photographers in the 1902 exhibition Portraits by a Few Leaders in the Newer Photographic Methods, hung in his Boston studio. Two years later, he gave her a solo show at the same venue. In 1903, she had a one-person exhibition at the Boston Camera Club.
Alfred Stieglitz embraced Devens’s photographs on many levels. In July 1902, Camera Notes, the periodical he edited, ran a photogravure of her image Charcoal Effect. This portrait of the Boston painter Charles Hopkins had already received acclaim at the 1900 Philadelphia Photographic Salon, being reproduced in its catalog. Stieglitz invited Devens to become a member of his elite group, the Photo-Secession, and included her work in its first show at New York’s National Arts Club in 1902. He also hung her photographs in the 1904 Photo-Secession shows at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute and Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art, plus a year later at the inaugural members’ exhibition at the group’s Little Galleries in New York.
When the art critic Sadakichi Hartmann reviewed the Carnegie show, he declared Devens "the strongest woman photographer we have at present," even outstripping Gertrude Käsebier. Indeed, by this time she had also become a member of England’s preeminent group of art photographers, the Linked Ring Brotherhood, being elected in 1902. Previously, that country’s important annual, Photograms of the Year, had already featured her pictures in 1898 and 1899.
Around 1905, Mary Devens began to lose her eyesight, causing her to cease photographing and even exhibiting. She was a long-term member of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, from 1899 until her death, on March 13, 1920, in her Cambridge home. The next year the society honored her with a memorial exhibition of her pictorial photographs. 
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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