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84 Chapter 6 PROFESSIONALPROOF ARGUINGFORWOMENPHOTOGRAPHERSATTHEFINDESIÈCLE Kristie S. Fleckenstein Arrayed in suits, vests, and hats gesturing to a turn-of-the-century moment, the six men featured in a vintage photograph stand at the entrance or descend the steps of an ornate hall situated on the grounds of the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris. Each gentleman appears to hold a camera or camera equipment , signaling his vocation. One gentleman mounts the stone balustrade above the building’s steps as if framing a shot of the exposition’s vista. Another , with camera prominently in hand, strides away from his colleagues, intent, perhaps, on other sights to capture on a celluloid plate. All treat their photographic equipment intimately, like extensions of their bodies, highlighting the degree to which their identities are linked to that equipment. Collectively and individually, these six men represent a small fraction of the congregation of photographers gathered for the International Congress on Photography. Here participants witnessed and engaged in “practical demonstrations of working methods, lectures on special topics, and visits to scientific and industrial institutions ” (“Ex Cathedra” 642), all designed to increase, circulate, and celebrate photographic knowledge. As participants in and contributors to this international community, the six men, recorded while leaving a meeting hall, suggest that photography at the fin de siècle, especially photography as a professional career, welcomes and nurtures men, not women. This assessment would be true except for the fact that the photograph was taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, one of two women appointed as America’s representatives to the congress and a famed photojournalist and camera portraitist in her own right. She is the woman behind the camera, the female “expert artist-photographer” (“Three”) who makes the six male attendees the object of her gaze, the focus of her lens. Touted in newspapers and periodicals as America’s greatest woman photographer , Johnston traveled to the congress not to snap an almost casual photograph but to curate a show of more than 140 photographs, the products of 85 Professional Proof 31 professional and amateur American women photographers.1 In so doing, Johnston acted rhetorically, not just artistically, to assert the right and ability of women to claim photography as a suitable career, a respectable—and professional —livelihood. It is the nature of Johnston’s rhetoric that I examine in this chapter. At a historical moment when cultural prohibitions against women “doing” business (“Business Woman”) remained entrenched, Johnston used her position as one of America’s most well-known female photographers to advocate for women photographers, first, as professionals, and second, as outstanding professionals possessing artistic as well as commercial worth. Particularly noteworthy about Johnston’s advocacy is her reliance on the combination of visual and verbal appeals, for Johnston crafts a rhetoric that draws on the dual affordances of word and image. Through a situation-specific organization of the visual and the verbal, Johnston fashions arguments that place women behind the camera rather than in front of it, as was their conventional role at the fin de siècle. Investigating the nature of Johnston’s persuasion thus informs not only our understanding of rhetoric but also our understanding of gender and professionalism on the cusp of the modern age.2 To illuminate Johnston’s rhetorical rather than photographic prowess, I explore two performances by which Johnston seeks to professionalize photography for women through marshaling visual and verbal appeals. I begin with Johnston’s 1897 photo-essay published in the Ladies’ Home Journal in which she argues that women can be professional photographers capable of creating and sustaining commercially viable careers. With its well-defined goal and its site in a popular women’s journal, the article relies on the dominance of a verbal argument, aided and complemented by fifteen of Johnston’s own professional photographs. The combination yields a rhetoric of re/appropriation in which professional gender identities for both men and women are taken (appropriated) and recoded (re/appropriated). The second rhetorical performance consists of Johnston’s curated show exhibited at the International Congress of Photography, where Johnston also presented in French her brief talk, “The Work of Women of the United States in Photography.” While her periodical article, which exclusively features her own photographic talent, argues verbally and demonstrates visually that women can be professional photographers , her exhibition, which deliberately omits her work to focus on the photography of others, argues visually and reinforces verbally that women can be outstanding photographers: they can be artists even as they use their artistry...


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