...about all the female photographers out there!
A few weeks ago, I was standing in front of my bookshelf, admiring my small, but slowly growing photobook collection. As I was reading the names of the photographers on the spine of the books, I noticed how very few of them are actually books by female photographers. Not that there aren’t any at all, but men are definitely overrepresented.
Then, in January of this year, I published my anniversary post and asked my readers what made them subscribe to my newsletter. I got some wonderful feedback (Thank you!), but especially one stuck with me and got me thinking. Al Adlard wrote:
“On a personal level, I'm drawn to your work/Substack because you are a fellow self-taught female creative on her own unique path. I would love to read your thoughts on more photobooks or work from non-male-identified photographers. The photography world is a tad heavy on male representation, and there are so many incredible photographers out there who identify differently.”
Al was so right. She had confirmed what I had been thinking ever since that day I had been looking at my bookshelf. And this was when I decided to focus more on female1 photographers who inspire me. Of course, I will keep writing about other topics, including male photographers, photobooks and of course “My Visual Journal” too.
So, to kick off this new little series, I would like to share an interesting story, I just learned about and which is the perfect “opener”. It is about one of the earliest surviving photographs in the world. And no, it is not made by a man even though it was believed it was, for a very long time.
When reading about the world’s first photographers, you often see the names William Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre mentioned. And rightly so, because both have made significant contributions to the early development of photography in the 1830s.
And because there are many surviving photographs - similar to the one above - by Talbot, it probably only makes sense to assume that the above photo of a leaf was his creation as well.
It was only when this photo (along with some others) was offered for sale at Sotheby's auction house in New York in 2008, that the search for the true creator began.
The auction house had asked the expert on early photography Larry Schaaf to take a look at said photo before it goes on auction. Schaaf, who is also the Director of the William Henry Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné at the Bodleian Library in Oxford knew right away, that this wasn’t a photograph by Talbot.
Based on his four decades of work on Talbot, he knew that with certainty, but it took him actually seven more years of intense research and detective-like work to prove his statement and to find out who had made this beautiful picture.
If you are interested in the whole story of how Schaaf found the real creator, you can watch his interesting talk here:
In 2015 the identity of the true author was eventually revealed. All the clues had led Schaaf eventually to a woman named Sarah Anne Bright (1793-1866) from Bristol, who had created the image in 1839.
Unfortunately, there is very little known of Sarah Anne Bright. She was an avid watercolour artist as well as one of the early women who experimented with photography.
“The Quillan Leaf” might not be the world’s oldest surviving photograph2, but is the world’s first known photograph we know of which was made by a woman. And that is pretty darn cool!
That’s it from me today.
Thank you for being here and for reading this week’s newsletter. It means a lot to me!
If you enjoyed this weeks topic, I would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments with me.
My Morning Muse is a reader-supported publication. If you enjoy this newsletter, you can support me by subscribing, becoming a paid subscriber (it is only $5 a month), liking the post or sharing it with a friend. It would mean the world to me! ❤️
I don’t want to discriminate anyone who isn’t female or male. But the list of people I am going to write consist only female so far.
"View from the Window at Le Gras," taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827 is considered the world's oldest surviving photograph.