Frances “Fannie” Benjamin Johnston, a pioneering female photographer from Grafton, West Virginia, was given her first camera by George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak Company.
After a period of training with Thomas Smillie, director of photography at the Smithsonian, she toured Europe, learning from other prominent photographers to further her craft.
In 1894, she opened her own studio in Washington D.C. and was commissioned by magazines to take celebrity portraits, including Mark Twain, Susan B. Anthony, Booker T. Washington and even Alice Roosevelt’s wedding.
Well connected among the elites of society, from the late 1800s through 1935, she photographed the gardens of the rich and famous.
To the wealthy and class-conscious, gardens signified status and refinement in an ever growing industrialized America.
Deemed “the finest existing on the subject”, many of her meticulously composed images were hand tinted and were meant to educate the masses on how to beautify their yards.
What must be the sensations of a visiting Martian, when after thrilling to the matchless beauty of the New York skyline… [he sees] the squalor and sordidness of many of our city districts…? (1922).Francis Benjamin Johnston
Francis Benjamin Johnston played a significant role in defining American landscape design.