Ruth Bernhard (1905-2006). Ruth Bernhard lives in the upstairs flat of a narrow white Victorian house in San Francisco. The staircase runs straight to the top, where both long walls are hung with photographs. Ruth Bernhard is a wiry woman with short curly hair, her alert eyes parenthesized by elegant facial lines. Our conversation takes place near the bay window in the front living room. Everything seems to be white-on-white, floor to ceiling, except for one gray wall. Against all this whiteness countless natural and handmade objects demand my attention: hanging ferns, a feather, a bone, a fossil, a small bronze nude, a geometric shape in brass and others in glass, a curved gun sight lens. All are arranged on stretches of bright-colored felt for the pleasure of seeing and touching (all, that is, except for the miniature dachshund who insists on keeping a safe distance from visitors Once settled in a chair with a fresh cup of coffee, Ruth Bernhard talks with great ease. Perennially curious about life, Ruth enthusiastically shares her well-formed concepts about making and viewing photographs, about teaching, about her own unfolding as an artist. In her present philosophy of vision and perception she retains the curiosity of childhood. Because of this, our exchange is a cooperative and energetic sharing of ideas and experiences.
Margaretta K. Mitchell: “Recollections: Ten Women of Photography,” 1979, p.30.
Carlotta M. Corpron (1901-1987). The ultramodern Dallas-Fort Worth Airport is an appropriate place to meet Carlotta Corpron, a photographer whose work was ultramodern in its time. She is a tall pale woman with kind blue eyes behind glasses; she walks with an elegant silver-handled cane and is dressed in a black and white staccato print dress. She is amused that the rhythm of the print is reminiscent of the design of one of her photographs. It is a hot, flat drive to Denton, which has been her home for over forty years. There on a quiet tree-shaded street she lives in a single-story clapboard house, where two Siamese cats wait on the front porch. Over a long weekend our dialogue ranges from her childhood in India to the power of light as a creative force. She often speaks of students with whom she became friends and whose careers and families are a part of her own. Her collection of antique Indian brass and small tapestries and a small selection of her own photographs are placed carefully in the room for enjoyment. It is such a restful environment for talk that the time of day is easily forgotten as she traces the story of her life and work.
Margaretta K. Mitchell: “Recollections: Ten Women of Photography,” 1979, p.48.
Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895-1989). A flat farm road meets wooded lane in western New jersey and at the end of the lane in a pocket of light farmed by a clearing sits a simple contemporary frame house with a yellow door. Light in the hallway falls on an animated and cheerful pair, the photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe and her husband, the artist Meyer Wolfe. They are a well-designed pair living in beautifully decorated surroundings, a sophisticated combination of rich colors in comfortable spaces. Large windows fame Wolfe’s sculpture, the walls are hung with paintings, and an elegant Oriental screen dominates the living room. It is not surprising that this home belongs to the creator of the style associated with the best days of Harper’s Bazaar. With a laugh she accepts her title of “Queen Louise. ” In conversation she is squarely practical, strong-minded, unflinching, but flexible. In her career she is known for meeting deadlines, demanding the best from everyone around her, and caring about people at the same time. Her talk sparkles with anecdotes about all the famous people who sat before her camera – from her “discovery” cover photograph for Bazaar of Lauren Bacall as a young actress to the poignant portrait of Colette, pen in hand, propped up in bed to write during her last year of life. Over ten years ago Louise Dahl- Wolfe put aside photography as a career. In so-called retirement she has new interests – sewing her own clothes, studying book-binding and French, and now, with the same amazing concentration of energy, printing from her negatives for shows and books, rediscovering photography for herself as she herself is being rediscovered as a photographer.
Margaretta K. Mitchell: “Recollections: Ten Women of Photography,” 1979, p.66.
Nell Dorr (1893 or 5 – 1988). The late summer air is still. A meadow of green meets the long driveway of Nell Dorr’s home, a large house made from a barn set against a hillside of pine trees. The valley could be in France or in a fairy tale, but it is, in fact, in western Connecticut. By a fireplace built into the stone wall at the end of the dining room Nell reclines on a sofa, her favorite place to talk. She is dressed in a long yellow Mexican dress embroidered with flowers at the neck and wrists. Her eyes laugh with mischief her gray hair, not yet pinned up for the day, streams over the pillows. This visit is unusual because questions are hardly necessary. We are old friends and she will tell me her story. The atmosphere of this country retreat evokes the in past in many ways: in the slow daily pace, the expanse of the lawn and the old-fashioned scale of the rooms, the family antiques and paintings, the smell of dried flowers. Through a subtle fusion of her work and her life Nell Dorr has always sought simplicity. Her life, like her work, has a timeless quality, the quality of a past period distilled through memory into poetry. Her conversation is impressionistic, her presence compelling.
Margaretta K. Mitchell: “Recollections: Ten Women of Photography,” 1979, p.84.
Photographs and words by Margaretta K. Mitchell. The photographer’s website.
Words are from the exhibition catalog, “Recollections: Ten Women of Photography“
September 21, 1979 – November 04, 1979. “This exhibition studies the lives of ten women and reveals in each a versatility previously obscured and a greatness not fully recognized. Berenice Abbott, Ruth Bernhard, Carlotta M. Corpron, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Nell Dorr, Toni Frissell, Laura Gilpin, Lotte Jacobi, Consuelo Kanaga, Barbara Morgan. Each photographer is represented by twenty images. Curated by Margaretta K. Mitchell.”
Today, March 8, 2016 is International Women’s Day 2016, “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”