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  • Laura Jones

FIVE remarkable WOMEN in Canadian photo history

Women in Canadian photo history

Women’s contributions in history have often been dismissed. In terms of Canadian photographic history, these omissions have provided us with a somewhat one-sided vision of our country’s history. With the digitization of collections in archives across the country and the creation of easily searchable online resources, the work of female photographers has slowly but surely been unearthed and shared. It’s about time that these female photographers were acknowledged and credited.

Hannah Maynard

Born in England, Hannah Hatherly married Richard Maynard at 18 and moved to Bowmanville, Ontario. While Richard traveled around Canada as a prospector, Hannah learned photography. When the family moved to Victoria, British Columbia, she set up her own business as, “Mrs. R. Maynard, Photographic Artist and Dealer in All Kinds of Photographic Materials.”

By 1880, Victoria’s growing tourist trade enabled Maynard to move into a larger studio and hire an apprentice. In 1897, she became Victoria’s official police photographer. Anyone arrested was taken to her studio for a mug shot.

Besides operating a successful business and raising five children, Maynard experimented with her medium in a way that was not only creatively ahead of her time, but technically superior to the work of her contemporaries. Her signature works include photomontages, multiple exposures, and photosculptures.

Her multiple exposures and montage images were revolutionary. She used various techniques to create new kinds of images. Her photomontages sometimes involved thousands of images. Maynard created The Gems of British Columbia series annually between 1881 and 1895. She made the final image into a New Year’s greeting card, sending it to all the mothers of the children she had photographed in the preceding year. She carefully cut out each portrait, pasted them together, and re-photographed the result on glass.

To make a photosculpture, Maynard covered her subject with white powder and black cloth, took a picture, and then superimposed it onto an image of a papier mâché bust or figure.

Maynard used mirrors and partial glass negative exposures to create unique narratives about herself and surreal tributes to the deceased.

Mattie Gunterman

In 1969, Ron D’Altroy entered a weathered storage shed in Beaton, British Columbia. Inside the damp shed, among rat feces, he found something unexpected: 200 of Mattie Gunterman’s glass plate negatives. After months of careful treatment, the negatives were saved. The shed was revealed to have been Gunterman’s darkroom.

Mattie was born Ida Madeline Werner in La Crosse, Wisconsin. At age 17, she moved to Seattle, Washington. While employed in a hotel, she met her husband-to-be, candy maker William Gunterman. In 1892, they had a son, Henry. A few years later, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and the Guntermans headed north for a dryer climate. They purchased land in Thomson’s Landing (Beaton), British Columbia. The Guntermans and their dog Nero walked a thousand kilometres, hunting, trapping, fishing, and working as cooks in mining, logging, and railroad camps along the way.

At the time, most amateurs used fixed-focus simple film cameras. Gunterman used a 4×5 inch glass plate camera. This gave her the advantage of a larger negative, more precise focus, and a choice of shutter speeds. Using an extra-long cable release, she would include herself in her photos.

Once in Beaton, Gunterman spent winter months developing her plates and making prints. Her photographs show some of the difficulties of pioneer life and the joys of leisure time. She photographed the men at work in the Nettie L. Mine, including the deceased miners as they were being shipped back to their Nova Scotia homes for burial.

Geraldine Moodie

Geraldine Moodie was born in Toronto, Ontario. Her entry into photography began when she photographed and hand coloured her mother’s flora drawings for her great aunt Catherine Parr Trail’s books.

In 1878 Geraldine married John Douglas (J.D.) Moodie. They moved to Calgary in 1886 when Douglas became an inspector with the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) tasked with mapping a trail to the Yukon.

As early as 1895, Moodie copyrighted her negatives, indicating her awareness of their importance. That same year, she documented the annual Cree Sun Dance and Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell commissioned Moodie to document locations relating to the Riel Rebellion.

While her husband’s career advanced (he became the governor of Hudson Bay in the eastern arctic district), Moodie did not sit idly by. She worked as a professional photographer for over a decade. She ran studios in Battleford and Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, and in Medicine Hat, Alberta. She operated this successful business while raising five children.

In 1904, Moodie travelled to the North West Territories with her husband aboard the ship Arctic as a secretary. Her husband attempted to acquire official photographer status for her. The request was denied but her photos continued to be sent with reports, including correspondence to Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier.

In 1911, Moodie photographed a NWMP contingent leaving for the coronation of King George V. When her husband retired, she continued her photography in Maple Creek.

To date, more than 600 of Moodie’s photographs have been collected. They can be viewed online thanks to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta.

Gladys Reeves

Gladys Reeves was born in England. Her family settled in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1904. One year later, 15-year-old Gladys Reeves worked as a receptionist, then a retoucher, and then a photographer, in Ernest Brown’s photo studio.

Reeves hadn’t intended to become a photographer. The original job was meant for her older sister. But Brown and Reeves ended up working together for nearly 50 years.

In 1911, Brown, motivated by a decade of success, built and moved into a new building complete with studio, office, store, and rental units. As the economy sank during World War I, Brown’s business deteriorated. In 1920, he was evicted. Everything except his photos were seized. He stopped photographing for about seven years but helped Reeves establish her own business. Disaster hit Reeves when a fire ruined her studio. Roughly 5000 prints, including many of Brown’s, were destroyed. Brown helped Reeves open another photography business. This one operated until about 1950.

Brown and Reeves were interested in increasing awareness of pioneer life. In the 1930s, they created the Birth of the West photo series for use in public schools. Brown willed his photographs and his collection to the Province of Alberta. Reeves was hired to organize and document its contents of over 10 000 photographs. Reeves’s photographs are in the Brown collection.

Reeves has been recognized for her extensive contributions to the City of Edmonton. Beyond her photographs, she was interested in horticulture and worked tirelessly to beautify the city.

A 2009 Edmonton Fringe Festival performance, The Unmarried Wife, was loosely based on Brown and Reeves.

Photographer Elsie Holloway was in business in St. John’s, Newfoundland, for 40 years. In 1914, she photographed hundreds of enlisted men in the Newfoundland Regiment. For years, the Holloway Studio was also popular for children and family portraits.

Holloway and her brother, Bert, learned photography from their father, a founder of the Photography Society for Amateurs. In 1908, two years after their father died, the siblings opened the Holloway Studio. Elsie took most of the studio portraits while Bert focused his attention on outdoor scenes. Holloway continued the business after her brother died in World War I. As business increased, her staff included eight assistants.

Holloway’s career highlights included meeting and photographing Amelia Earhart in 1932 at Harbour Grace. In 1939, the photographer’s presence was noted when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stopped on their royal tour.

Some questions remain as to who took which pictures: Elsie, her father, her brother, or other photographers. Most are simply stamped “Holloway.”

For a time Holloway’s glass negatives had been incorporated into a greenhouse. Those that survived are in the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador.


Our CELEBRATING CANADA issue #49 / Spring Summer 2017, featured these stories and more women in Canadian photo history. Check out the full DIGITAL edition: HERE.

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