Fern, Fungi, Fun: “What a Wonderful World”

Jeannette Klute (1918-2009), Luna Moth, ca. 1950 (2354.2005)

Jeannette Klute (1918-2009), Wild Larkspur, ca. 1955 (2009.89.5)

Jeannette Klute (1918-2009), Trout Lily, from the “Woodland Portraits” series, ca. 1950 (2345.2005)

Jeannette Klute (1918-2009), Jack in the Pulpit, ca. 1950 (2349.2005)

Jeannette Klute (1918-2009), Pitcher-plant, from the “Woodland Portraits” series, ca. 1950 (2359.2005)

Jeannette Klute (1918-2009), “Woodland Portraits, Plate 4,” ca. 1955 (2009.86.2)

Rochester born Jeannette Klute attended the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics (predecessor to the Rochester Institute of Technology) and the University of Rochester. While still a student the trailblazing Klute began her long career at the Eastman Kodak Company. At Kodak she worked in the Research Laboratories, was head of the Visual Research Studio of the Color Control Division, and managed the Photographic Technology Studio.

“The first month they were sending people out for job interviews, but not me,” she recalled in a speech at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1984. “I asked how come? The head of the department said, ‘Oh, there are no jobs for women in photography.’ My world fell apart.”

Ms. Klute took it upon herself to go out for interviews, and every week on her day off, she walked to the offices of Eastman Kodak Co. to ask for a job. For a long time, she never made it past the personnel office. Then, one day, in the pouring rain, decked in her finest navy blue suit, she stalked to the offices and was sent straight to the sixth floor for an interview.
“The man took a look at me with the rain dripping off my hat and said, ‘If you want a job that bad, you’ve got it,’” she recalled. “There was a celebration in the neighborhood that night.”…

“She was really like my college education,” said Barbara Erbland, who assisted Ms. Klute in the lab at Kodak for many years. “She taught me everything — about light, color, about people … how to live well.”… “Her lab consisted of all women,” she said. “I think it was by intention. She believed women had brains. We worked very well together.”…

Lugging a 4-by-5 Graflex single-lens reflex camera wherever they went, Erbland ventured into swamps and tide pools… “She taught me you don’t make do, you make things happen,” said Erbland. “You’re not a victim.”

Back in Rochester, the two sought out swamps and woodland for Ms. Klute to take her photographs — or, as she put it, to “make pictures.”
PHOTO GALLERY: In memory of Jeannette Klute, a ‘Renaissance woman,’ by Philip Anselmo, August 2009

In the early 1950s Klute had photos in three exhibitions (including Color Photography, 1950, and Abstraction in Photography, 1951) at MoMA. In 1954 a colorful portfolio of plant photos were published by Little Brown and Co. in a book called “Woodland Portraits.” (Photographic portraits of plants in their natural environment, a kind of wildlife.) Klute’s artistry, technical expertise, and love of nature can be seen in these large, beautiful dye transfer prints.

Sources, citations, and further reading:
PHOTO GALLERY: In memory of Jeannette Klute, a ‘Renaissance woman,’” by Philip Anselmo, August 2009.

Guide to the Jeannette Klute collection at RIT.

Jeannette Klute (1918-2009), Spinulose Wood-Fern, from the “Woodland Portraits” series, ca. 1950 (2353.2005)

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