1864 - 1952
Frances Benjamin Johnston
Born in West Virginia, Johnston, one of the first professional women photographers, was a pioneer in photographing gardens during the American Country Place Era. She sustained a fifty-year career by selling photographs and related articles to magazines, newspapers, landscape architects and house owners.
After studying fine art at the Académie Julian in Paris from 1883 to 1885, Johnston returned to live in Washington, D.C, where in the 1890s she became a photojournalist and portrait photographer. In 1909, recognizing the potential for work on newly completed City Beautiful projects, she moved to New York City, a center of architectural photography.
Beginning with urban mansions and philanthropic institutions, Johnston turned to photographing estate gardens, working with photographer Mattie Edwards Hewitt from 1909 until 1917. That year, she returned to independent practice and until the Depression photographed in black and white over two hundred gardens across America and in Europe.
With her photographs of California, Long Island, Massachusetts and Southern gardens designed by Marion Coffin, Beatrix Farrand, Lewis P. Hobart, and Olmsted Brothers, Johnston produced hand-colored lantern slides for lectures on design and wildflower preservation that she delivered to garden club audiences.
In 1927 Johnston moved back to Washington where she worked with the Library of Congress documenting historic southern houses and gardens until her retirement to New Orleans in 1945. Today, the Library of Congress preserves her manuscript and photography archives.