Remembering Photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston

Frances Benjamin Johnston was one of the first American female photographers and photojournalists. She was born 150 years ago on January 15th, 1864. She established herself as a photographer by taking portraits of the political elite in Washington D.C. She was the official photographer for the White House during the Cleveland, Mckinley, Roosevelt, Taft and Harrison administrations.

Frances Benjamin Jonston

Frances Benjamin Jonston

She received her first camera from George Eastman. George Easton created Eastman Kodak cameras and was trained by the director of photography at the Smithsonian Institute, Thomas William Smillie.

Frances began her career as an artist-reporter. She sensed a changing trend in journalistic illustration while working as the Washington correspondent for a New York newspaper. She then decided to turn to photography. In 1897, the Ladies Home Journal published Johnston’s article “What a Woman Can Do With a Camera” which urged women to consider photography as a way to support themselves.

Johnston also photographed events such as world’s fairs and peace-treaty signings. She also to the last photo of President William Mckinley just before his assassination in 1901. She then joined the Photo-Secession in 1904.

During the 1920’s she was increasingly interested in architecture photography. She was one of the first contributors to the Pictorial Archives of Early American Architecture. Her photographs are still an important resource for modern historians, architects and conservationists.

Frances Johnston then received four grants from the Carnegie Foundation to document the historic gardens and architecture of the south. She was then made an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects in 1945.