Welcome to Photoria, a website that sheds light on the role of women in the history of Australian photography between 1850 and 1950. There is, overall, a broad disparity in the breadth of knowledge in favour of men in contrast to that of the women who populated the industry. This website is a resource to redress that disparity.
As far back as the 1850s, in Australia the men and women behind the camera worked together in studios, as travelling photographers, as business partners, and as competitors. They were reliant on each other’s skills to build up a successful business and turn a profit. This is not to imply that there was a greater degree of equality within this industry as compared to others, as women were legally paid less than their male counterparts. And, unlike their male counterparts who littered the pages of the popular and trade press, women were virtually ignored by the press with only rare exceptions. Such exceptions were praised and recommended by the journalist who found merit in their work.
Praised or ignored, who were these women and what jobs did they perform in their photographic careers? In the mid 19th century the women who worked in photography in Australia were often part of a family business. There were however, across the continent, a number of women who engaged in the business of photography on their own terms. These women were trailblazers, and as the decades rolled on the idea of a woman working as the principal photographer became more and more of a reality. In fact, by the late 19th and early 20th centuries photography was recommended as a suitable career for women along with dressmaking, secretarial and retail work – but only until they married.
From the turn of the 20th century and beyond there were high profile women photographers whose names were emblazoned on studio shopfronts, printed on their photographs, and periodically noted in the press. Then there were women who worked as colourists, retouchers and finishers, all of whom guaranteed a high quality output for the client.
And in the 19th century particularly there was the need for dressers, hairdressers and posers—women who saw to it that a sitter was suitably dressed, coiffed and posed to ensure the final image represented the best of the sitter. Today, such work comes under the umbrella term of stylist.
Photoria can be viewed as a record of the participation of women at all levels of the Australian photographic industry across the 100 years that this website covers. But it is more than a great big list of names. It is a compilation of biographical entries, summarising the careers of Australian women who worked in photography, whatever her station in that industry. Where possible, entries are supplemented with a gallery of their work, while for other entries feature-length articles are included, with an emphasis on their place within the industry. The hope is that Photoria provides a reservoir of information to be updated or amended as time goes on, and one that will facilitate the rewriting of the history of Australian photography where that history deserves to be rewritten.