In all its simplicity, this photo of a young Evelyn Nesbit shows Käsebier’s quality as a portraitist: it’s both dreamy and direct, posed and natural. It seems to contain the essence of adolescence: Evelyn looks at ease, aware of her beauty, while the road ahead of her is still unknown. She has the irresistible combination which puts fear into a mother’s heart and makes men lose their heads: she’s sexy and innocent at the same time. In Evelyn’s case, sadly, this would indeed prove to have fatal consequences when her husband shot a well-known architect and former lover in a jealous rage.
Gertrude Käsebier was one of the most influential American photographers of the early 20th century.
She ran her own studio for over 30 years, had work published in major photography journals, exhibited across the United States and in 1910 established the Women’s Professional Photographers Association of America.
At age 37, against her husband’s wishes, she moved her family to Brooklyn to study at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design full-time. She traveled to Germany to study the chemistry of photography, and when she returned to Brooklyn learned to run a studio.
She opened her own portrait studio in New York in 1897 and continued to photograph until her studio closed in 1929. Her husband passed away in 1910 and Käsebier was free to pursue her interests as she saw fit.
Greatly influenced by the theories of Friedrich Fröbel, whose ideas on learning and play led to the development of the first kindergarten, she tried to emphasize the bond between mother and child. She always regarded her first career as being a mother, and her work reflects that celebration of motherhood and family.
Käsebier also advocated for women to take up photography:
“I earnestly advise women of artistic tastes to train for the unworked field of modern photography. It seems to be especially adapted to them, and the few who have entered it are meeting a gratifying and profitable success.”