Gertrude Käsebier was considered to be one of the most influential American photographers of the early 20th century. She was known for her images of motherhood, her portraits of Native Americans, and her promotion of photography as a career for women.
Originally named Gertrude Stanton, born in 1852, the portrait photographer who was one of the founders of the influential Photo-Secession group and is best known for her evocative images of women and domestic scenes.
She studied art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and quickly gravitated toward photography. Soon her work became recognised and was often exhibited. Her first solo exhibition was held in 1896 at the Boston Camera Club, and the following year, Käsebier opened her own studio in New York City. Her photographs were included in the Philadelphia Photographic salons of 1898, 1899, and 1900. She exhibited her photograph titled The Manger at the salon of 1899, and it was purchased for $100, setting a new precedent in the photography art market. Her photographs also appeared in numerous magazines and were featured in the first issue of the influential Camera Work.
As other photographers of the period were working in the Pictorialist style, Käsebier was more interested in promoting the medium as a fine art. As part of this effort, in 1902 she, Alfred Stieglitz, Clarence H. White, and Edward Steichen formed the Photo-Secession. She was also a member of the Professional Photographers of New York and of the Linked Ring in London and a cofounder of the Women’s Federation of the Photographers’ Association of America (1910).
In 1916 she broke openly with Stieglitz and cofounded the Pictorial Photographers of America with White. About 1927 she closed her portrait studio. A retrospective exhibition of her photography was held at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1929.
Käsebier is best known for her sensitive depictions of motherhood and for her numerous portraits, often of famous artists and writers, including studies of the sculptor Auguste Rodin. In all her work she attempted to capture a symbolic, yet intimate view of her subjects. Käsebier worked primarily with platinum prints, although she began using a gum-bichromate process in 1901. Like many fellow Pictorialists, she often manipulated her photographs to fit her artistic intentions.