Here’s our list of top 12 pioneering women photographers and their work. With strong conviction and passion for photography, these incredible women had not only left serious marks on the industry, but they also made significant contributions to the progress of gender equality— bringing the art of photography to new heights.

Anna Atkins (1799-1871)

Anna Atkins was a botanist, and one of the earliest woman photographers. Soon after she was introduced into photography by one of her father’s friends, the legendary Fox Talbot, she quickly embraced the medium and used it to record specimens. She use the Cyanotype process for her work because it was inexpensive and easy to work with.  This process, though Atkins didn’t know it at the time, produces far more permanent results than other methods, and that’s why much of her work still survives until today. In October 1843 Atkins became the first person to print and publish a book with photography illustrations of 424 images. It was called “British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions” and was published in several issues over a period of ten years. This was an astonishing accomplishments considering that women were not encourage to pursuits any scientific work at the time.  

Anna Atkins in 1861
A cyanotype photogram made by Atkins which was part of her 1843 book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
Delesseria sanguinea.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)

Julia Margaret Cameron is considered one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 19th century.   In 1839 she married a jusist named Charles Hay Cameron and the couple later had six children together. After receiving a camera as a gift in 1863, she turned her chicken coop into a darkroom and started making portraits. Cameron became known for her portraits of eminent people of the day. Among her sitters were her friends the poets Alfred Lord Tennyson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the astronomer Sir John Herschel, the writer Thomas Carlyle, and the scientist Charles Darwin.    Cameron is also known for her ability to capture the depth of female beauty which can be seen in her portraits of the actress Ellen Terry and Julia Jackson.

Like many photographers in Victorian time, her portrait style included the imitation of the popular Tomanct and Pre-Raphaelite paintings of the day. Nevertheless, her portraits showed a measure of vitality which the work of many others of the time did not.

Julia Margaret Cameron by her son Henry Herschel Hay Cameron, 1870
Julia Jackson, mother of the writer Virginia Woolf, 1867
Charles Darwin, 1868
Charles Hay Cameron, 1871

Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822-1865)

Lady Clementina Hawarden was a well-known portrait photographer of the 1860s. She  first began to experiment with photography in 1857, taking stereoscopic landscape photographs before moving to large-format, stand-alone portraits of her daughters. In London, her photographic work flourished and she was able to convinced many of her friends to pose for her photographs.

Lady Clementina Hawarden

Despite her relatively short life, Lady Clementina produced a large number of pictures in wide varieties. She was awarded a medal by the (then) Photographic Society, though she passed away before receiving the award.

Clementina Maude and Isabella, 1861
Clementina and Florence Elizabeth Maude, 1863-64
The Viscountess Hawarden with Donald Cameron of Lochiel, 1861

Gertrude Kasebier (1852-1934)

Gertrude Kasebier was born in Iowa in 1952. She began taking photographs in the early 1890 and and opended her first portrait studio in New York City in 1897. She was the first woman to be elected to the Linked Ring, the prestigious  photographic society and also a founding member of the Photo Secession. Through out her career,Kasebier’s work was widely praise by critics, especially her sense of “what to leave out”.  She once said that her purpose of taking photographs was “not to inform, but to share an experience, to evoke an emotional response of the viewers”

Gertrude Käsebier by Adolf de Meye
Arthur B. Davis, 1907
Yoked and Muzzled Marriage, 1915
Miss N (Portrait of Evelyn Nesbit), 1903

Alice Austen (1866-1952)

Alice Austen was an American photographer. After receiving a camera at the age of ten, she has been taking pictures rigorously.  On top of her interest in photography, she became one of the first woman to be involved in documentary work. Through her photographs, she also challenged oppressive Victorian conventions by embracing individuality and independence. In 2019, the Alice Austen House was officially designated a national site of LGBTQ history by the National Park Service.

Alice Austen
Trude & I, 1891
Group Apparatus, 1893.
The Darned Club, 1891

Emma Barton (1872-1938)

Emma Barton was from Birmingham, England. At the peak of her artistic career, Barton was perhaps the most published female photographer of her day and many of her works rose to international acclaim.  She was awarded the Royal Photographic Society Medal in 1903 for  her series The Awakening. In 1904 she had her first solo show at the Royal Photographic Society. The following years, she was awarded a $100 prize at the Second American Salon and had exhibitions in France, America, England, and Germany.

In 1922 Barton took up autochromes and produced a series of portraits involving the re-working of Pre-Raphaelite pieces.

Emma Barton by Dorothy Barton
The Awakening, 1903
The Blue Turban, ca.1911
St. Catherine, 1906
Untitled (Known as Girl with Basket of Gooseberries), ca. 1911

Anne W. Brigman (1869-1950)

Annes W. Bringman is an American photographers who is best known for her iconic numbers of nude and landscape photographs in the early 1900s.  She was certainly considered a radical at the time for objectifying her own nude body as the subject of her photographs especially in a near-desolate outdoor setting.  Although the concept feminist art did not exist until nearly seventy years after Brigman made her first photographs, the suggestion that her camera gave her the power to redefine her place as a woman in society establishes her as an important forerunner in the field.

Self-Portrait of Anne Brigman, 1919
Anne Brigman, 1909
Anne Brigman, Invictus, circa 1925–26
The Bubble, 1909
Anne Brigman, The Source, 1905

Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952)

Johnston received an education in art in Paris and Washington and worked for periodicals, writing and illustrating her article. She then began to take her own photographs and opened a studio in Washington in 1890. Johnston was very popular among celebrity clients and had several assignments for the White House. In 1897 she published an article titled “what a woman can do with her camera” as one of her efforts to promote greater recognition of woman in photography. In 1990, she then continue to collected 148 works by 28 women photographers for exhibition in Russia and at the World Exhibition in Paris.  Today, she’s also known as the pioneer of photojournalism.

Frances Benjamin Johnston, Self portrait, 1896
Booker T. Washington, c.1895
George Washington Carver (front row, center) poses with fellow faculty of Tuskegee Institute, c. 1902

Agnes Warburg (1872-1953)

Agnes Warburg was born in London and took up photography after being inspired by her elder brother’s career. During her career, she was an early experimenter of the autochrome and Raydec color photographic process and became one of the experts of the field in the early 20th century. Similar to the work of many photographers in her time, Warburg’s style aimed to not only highlight the beauty of the natural world, but also the beauty of natural things as cultivated and rearranged by human.  Her work was exhibited at prestegeouse institutions such as  the Photographic Salon of the Linked Ring and at the Royal Photographic Society.

Agnes Warburg by John Warburg
.Whalers in Magdalene Bay, Spitsbergen, c. 1930
Peonies, 1912

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)

Berenice Abbott is one of the most important photographers of the 20th century. She spent six decades taking pictures across genres. Her work series, “Changing New York” (1929-1939) is generally considered to be one of the most iconic photographic projects has ever created. Besides her of photographs of architecture and urban design of the 1930s, Berenice is laso known for her portraits and her pioneering work as a scientific photographer.

Berenice Abbott
Lyric Theatre, 1936
Flatiron Building , 1938
New York at night, 1932
Magnetic Field, 1959

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)

Dorothea Lange is best known for her iconic photograph Migrant Mother. She’s one of the most influential documentary photographers of the 20th century whose career spanned more than four decades.  When she returned to California at the height of the Depression, she felt compelled to take her camera out on the streets of San Francisco which later led her to work with the Farm Security Administration as a documentary photographer.  During World War II, she photographed the horrible dislocation and internment of the Japanese Americans to raise awareness of the atrocity. Lange continued to publish high volume work focused her lens on human suffering in the hope of influencing social and political reform. Her extensive series of work was exhibited in a one-person show, an astonishing accomplishment had only been done by 6 photographers before her at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Dorothea Lange by Paul S. Taylor, c.1935
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California, 1942
Enforcement of Executive Order 9066. Japanese children made to wear identification tags, Hayward, California, 1942. 

Martha Holmes (1923-2006)

Matha Holmes was an American photographer and photojournalist. She was the leading figure at Life magazine during the 1940s before decided to continue her career as a freelancer for another three decades. At the height of her career she photographed numerous iconic images that earned her top 10 female photographers of the nation in 1950. Holmes’s photographs were published in major publications such as People, Redbook, Coronet, and Collier’s magazines and exhibited worldwide including The National Portrait Gallery and the Louvre.

Martha Holmes on a film set, 1947
Singer Billy Eckstine gets a hug from an adoring fan after a show in New York in 1949
The Princeton Tiger, 1949
Salvador Dali and Gala 1945

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