my Birthday Aunt Ethel gave me a roll of film for Mum’s
Brownie box camera with a note attached that it included
getting the film developed.
As soon as the film was loaded into the camera, I rushed
outside to take the twelve pictures.
It seemed to be a long week as I waited to see the
results of my first attempt at photography.
When Saturday finally arrived, my hand was shaking with
excitement, as I opened the envelope that Aunt Ethel
handed me. As I took out the first picture, it was
blurred which meant I must have moved the camera when I
snapped the picture but the others were nice and clear.
I rushed into the kitchen and announced that I was going
to be a photographer and have my own studio when I grew
up. My bubble of happiness broke when Dad said, "Only
men were photographers.”
In fact when I read an article by Josh Green in the 2017
Fall Issue of Silhouettes, published by the Associates
of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, I found out
recent research has revealed that at least a few New
Brunswick ladies practiced the “men-only” trade
of photography over 150 years ago!”
The earliest female photographer for whom there are
extant examples of her work is likely Jane Wilson.
Born Jane Flett of Nelson, NB, she married William
Wilson in 1855 in Miramichi, and the two lived
between Washington, Minnesota, and New Brunswick over
the ensuing decades.”
By 1865, she advertised her services as a photographer
in the Chatham, NB, directory, and took out ads in “The
Chatham Gleaner” with one stating, “Photographs!
Photographs. Mrs. J. Wilson, late of the United
States, begs leave to announce to the Ladies and
Gentlemen of Miramichi that she has taken rooms above
the store of Mr Arthur Wright, in Chatham, where she
is prepared to take Photographs, Ferreotypes, and
Melaneotypes, in the very latest style of the art. The
price will be moderate, and no pictures charged for,
unless satisfactory to the owner.”
Jane Wilson may have learned photography, in
Chatham or Newcastle from a man named Aaron Sproul who
had been advertising a bit in the Chatham Gleaner and
elsewhere. He placed an ad in that paper on 19 August
1864, about six months before Wilson’s career in Chatham
began. In his ad, Sproul, giving his address as
Newcastle, notified the public of his leaving the
photographic trade in this way: “A Great Bargain: The
Subscriber will Sell his SALOON and Fit Out for
Photographing and Ambrotyping, and Stock enough to
take Thirty Pounds worth of Pictures, and instructions
in the Art if required for Fifty Pounds. Any person
wishing to purchase, will do well to call at the
Saloon, and satisfy themselves that it is a good
Wilson may well have taken up Sproul’s stock, trade, and
perhaps his offer of “instructions in the Art”.
Her “melaneotypes” are today known as ambrotypes
- positive images on glass, often presented in a folding
The subjects of Wilson’s photos are unidentified and the
only link to Wilson is that each bears pencil
inscriptions on the back which explain that they were
taken by “Mrs. Wilson” in Chatham. They are in the older
style of carte-de-visite portraiture in that they are
full-body portraits and, at least one of them features
slight tinting of the cheeks of one of the ladies.
A.B. Vining was another early NB photographer,
active in Chatham, Fredericton, and Saint John in the
late 1840s, and it was his wife who could be credited as
the first woman working in the photographic trade in New
Brunswick. Although she does not appear to have been a
photographer herself, she apparently coloured
Miss Emma J. Whitlock seems to have been one of
NB’s other earliest female photographers. Born about
1843, she was the daughter of St. Andrews attorney, Samuel
H. Whitlock, and Margaret Whitlock.
In the 1867 Hutchinson directory she advertised a
photography studio on William Street in St. Andrews.
Emma died at the age of 46 in 1890 of pneumonia at her
brother's residence on Water Street.
One of New Brunswick’s best-known 20th century
photographers, Madge Smith of Fredericton, sold
hand-coloured photographs throughout much of her
professional career and likely worked as a colourist at
Harvey Studios before she opened her own shop. Smith’s
collection of 1,275 negatives is held by the Provincial
Archives of NB where it is entitled P120 Madge Smith
Ladies in photography often were somewhat hidden figures
– photographers themselves often had their studio named
stamped or embossed on their work, particularly
post-1860, colourist/hand tinters were not commonly
recognized for their work. Hand tinting was not
exclusively “women’s work”, but it was likely
predominantly carried out by women artists, in New
Brunswick, at least.
By the way, the first practical photographic process,
the daguerreotype, was introduced to the world in
January 1839 by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre at the
French Académie des Sciences in Paris.
The next time you say “CHEESE” for the camera remember
that some photographs were preserved on tin since 1839.
Many of these tintypes may be found in a family album.
Furthermore ladies hand tinted photos long before
coloured digital photos were even thought of.