Within the museum’s photography collection lies the work of three remarkable women—Emma D. Sewall (1836–1919), Josephine Ginn Banks (1863–1958), and Abbie F. Minott (1874–1944). Descendants of shipbuilding and seafaring families in the southern Midcoast and Penobscot Bay regions, these women captured striking images of Maine’s landscapes, industries, and communities towards the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Their photographs provide a unique opportunity to step back in time, and this December, the museum will open a new exhibition featuring their photography together for the first time.
Sewall, Banks, and Minott each developed an interest in photography during the rise of the amateur photography movement. They were among the many women across America who picked up cameras, thanks to improvements in technology and advertisements in women’s magazines. The Eastman Kodak Company and other camera brands consistently touted the ease with which women could use their new and improved cameras and the latitude they provided women who were interested in documenting their daily lives and families. But for Emma, Josephine, and Abbie, photography was more than a fleeting hobby; photography provided them with freedom, creative outlets, opportunities to experiment, life-long friendships, and business endeavors. Of the three women, Emma D. Sewall of Bath is the most well-known. While the political careers of her husband, Arthur Sewall, and son, Harold Marsh Sewall, received much press, so did her photography. Considered one of the best amateur photographers in the country in the 1890s, Emma had great success exhibiting her work in the United States and abroad. Emma’s photography often featured a romanticized view of working-class individuals whose livelihoods were tied to the land and sea, creating a nostalgic view of Maine during a period of rapid industrial change.
Josephine Ginn Banks, on the other hand, is still relatively unknown even today. A prolific photographer, Josephine took hundreds of photographs of Prospect and its citizens. She staged numerous portrait sessions of babies, families, and pets and experimented with different backdrops, props, and poses. She was also keen to record events in Prospect and used her camera to capture the arrival of the railroad and new steamship to town. Notably, she is the only woman in this group to officially identify as herself a photographer, which she did in the 1910 census. A shipbuilder’s daughter, Abbie F. Minott had rare access to the Minott shipyard in Phippsburg. Using the camera her brother secured for her in 1898, she captured detailed images of the construction and launching of wooden vessels in her family’s shipyard. Her glass plate negatives provide some of the only known Maine photographs of certain shipbuilding processes, as well as daily life in Phippsburg.
Exhibiting the photography of these three women together provides a fascinating lens into the world of amateur photography. While each woman chose different subjects to highlight and mainly pursued photography as a hobby, they were all prominent documentarians of Maine’s coastal landscapes and folkways. The upcoming exhibition will finally pay proper tribute to Emma, Josephine, and Abbie’s photography, spotlighting their work as crucial historical records and a form of art.
With Generous Consideration
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