“Portrait of the Photographer,” manipulated self-portrait by Gertrude Käsebier, circa 1899.
Although she became one of the most influential turn of the century American photographers, Gertrude Käsebier did not begin her career as a photographer until her late 30s. At 37, she enrolled at the Pratt Institute to study painting and drawing, but she was quickly drawn to photography. Ten years after she began her artistic studies, Alfred Stieglitz proclaimed her the leading artistic portrait photographer of the day.
A mother of three, Gertrude was influenced by educationalist Friedrich Fröbel who developed the concept of kindergarten. The bond between mother and child became a reoccurring theme in Gertrude’s work. She preferred to photograph mothers in the act of mothering- rocking a baby, helping a child out the door, nursing, reading a story. Some of her mother and child photographs have titles such as “Blessed art thou among women” which connect the Virgin Mary to mothers of the day.
Gertrude is also known for her photographs of Native Americans working at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, but her best known image to modern audiences is probably her portrait of Evelyn Nesbitt.
An advocate for female photographers, Gertrude helped to establish the Women’s Professional Photographers Association of America. Photographer Frances Benjamin Johnson was among her admirers and friends.