French Women Photographers in the First Half of the 20th Century

Pictures of buildings and children posted on a wall.




Elliot and Roslyn Jaffe Endowed Professor in Film Studies

Project Summary

Women photographers are often overlooked in the art historical canon; the aim of my research was to shed light on this essential but often forgotten facet of a larger photographic lineage. I was eager to gain experience in art history research, specifically in French, while also having the opportunity to focus on the intersection of gender, nationhood, and photography. My goal for my research was to look at writings and photos about and by early French women photographers, in various archives in France, to gain insight into this topic for my history of art senior thesis. I primarily conducted my archival research at the Société Française de Photographie, the Centre Pompidou, and l’Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art looking at various techniques of photography ranging from autochromes to cyanotypes to gelatin silver prints. A key finding in my research was the artwork of Russian-French photographer Hélène Adant. She photographed many notable artists of the 20th century including Matisse and Picasso, in addition to various landscapes, objects, and artworks. Several hundreds of her photos and correspondences were donated to various archives, and are nearly entirely absent from any writings on photography. This became a common trend in my research, wherein even if a photograph was correctly attributed, there was frequently little to no information about the woman who had taken the photograph. Ultimately, my research allowed me to narrow in on a few French women photographers as well as gain a larger understanding of French women photographers. Through my research in French archives, I was able to practice my French reading and writing skills, and gain insight into the French archival research process as well as gather critical research of my thesis topic by looking at hundreds of primary sources.