Rare Merit
325 pages, 7 1/2 x 10
158 photographs, 6 maps
Release Date:01 Jun 2022

Rare Merit

Women in Photography in Canada, 1840–1940

UBC Press

As Canada took shape in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the camera was there throughout as both a witness to the colonialism, capitalism, and gendered and racialized social organization, and as a protagonist. And women across the country, whether residents or visitors, photographed people and places that were entirely new to the lens. Rare Merit examines how they did so, why their images look the way they do, and the meanings their work carries.

Studio portraitists, travel documentarians, photojournalists, fine artists, hobbyists, and photographic printers make up the assembly, beginning with the arrival in Nova Scotia of North America’s first professional woman photographer, the American daguerreotypist Mrs. Fletcher. Colleen Skidmore surveys the professional lives and photographs of nearly eighty women who followed her, from Lucy Maude Montgomery on Prince Edward Island to Élise Livernois in Quebec City, and from Margaret Bourke-White in the Arctic to Hannah Maynard on Vancouver Island.

Why women? Why not women? Presenting the exceptional range of their work, Rare Merit proves that women’s practices and images – knowingly omitted from founding narratives of photographic history – were diverse, compelling, widespread, and influential. Whenever and wherever women photographers lived, travelled, and worked, their impact undermined the status quo.

Historians of photography, Canadian art, and Canadian women will want a copy of this beautiful work, as will gallery curators, photography enthusiasts, and scholars and students of Canadian studies and media.

Colleen Skidmore is a professor emerita at the University of Alberta. She is the author of Searching for Mary Schäffer: Women Wilderness Photography and This Wild Spirit: Women in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, which was adapted as a CBC Radio Alberta series and an exhibition. Her interdisciplinary research on early photography has appeared in journals as wide ranging as History of Photography, Social History/Histoire sociale, Journal of Canadian Art History, and Journal of Canadian Studies. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

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