Gertrude Käsebier

(1852 - 1934) American


Born in Fort Des Moines, Iowa, Gertrude Käsebier married and brought up three children before she devoted herself to art. She enrolled at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1889 to study portrait painting, but by 1893 she was devoting herself to photography. After apprenticeships with a chemist and a portrait photographer, she opened her own studio in 1897 and published her work in journals such as Camera Notes, The Craftsman, and The Photographic Times. She showed her photographs in exhibitions, such as the Philadelphia Photographic Salons of 1898 and 1899, F. Holland Day's The New School of American Photography in 1900, and American Pictorial Photography at the National Arts Club in New York in 1902, the exhibition that led to Stieglitz's founding of the Photo-Secession. Käsebier was a highly visible member of that group, and her work appeared in most of its exhibitions between 1903 and 1909, and in the first two issues of Stieglitz's Camera Work. In 1912, by the time the Photo-Secession had moved away from Pictorialism, Käsebier resigned. Until her retirement in 1927, she continued actively supporting the Pictorialist movement, participating in exhibitions worldwide and cofounding the Pictorial Photographers of America with Clarence H. White and Alvin Langdon Coburn in 1916.
As one of the most prominent American photographers of her day, Käsebier played an important role in the acceptance of photography as a fine art. Her practice of painting on her negatives and her use of the gum bichromate, gum-platinum, and bromoil printing techniques yielded photographs that revealed the hand of the artist and enforced the medium's expressive potential. Furthermore, Käsebier's portrayal of motherhood and related themes proved photography's capacity for allegory, which also supported its artistic ambition. Her leadership in the Women's Federation of the Professional Photographers Association of America and other organizations allowed her to disseminate such ideas to a widespread audience.
Lisa Hostetler
Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 219.
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