Johnston, Frances Benjamin (1864–1952)

Photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston tirelessly documented the architectural and landscape history of New Orleans through striking black and white photographs. 

Throughout her varied sixty-year career, photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston received numerous commissions to record buildings and gardens throughout the United States. Her photographs of New Orleans helped to publicize the city’s historic significance and bolstered the efforts of such newly formed preservation organizations as the Vieux Carré Commission and VCPORA

Johnston’s professional career began in 1890 with the opening of her portrait studio in Washington DC, where she served as a White House photographer under four consecutive administrations.1 She later became interested in contemporary architecture and refocused her work on architectural documentation.2 In the early 1930s, not long before the federal Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) program began recording built heritage across the country, Johnston received a grant from the Carnegie Foundation to document the built environments of the South.3 During this survey, Johnston took over four hundred photographs of the Vieux Carré, the Garden District, and Louisiana plantations.4 Her fondness for the city led her to relocate to New Orleans in 1940, where she continued to photograph daily life in the Vieux Carré from her home at 1132 Bourbon Street until her death in 1952.5

 

1. Martha A Sandweiss, ed., Photography in Nineteenth-century America (Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum, 1991), 325.

2. Helena Zirkham, “Frances Benjamin Johnston - Biographical Overview and Chronology,” Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. [link: http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/fbjchron.html]

3. Turner Browne and Elaine Partnow, ed., Macmillan Biographical Encyclopedia of Photographic Artists & Innovators (New York: Macmillan, 1983), 312.

4. John H. Lawrence, “Frances Benjamin Johnston,” in KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010). Article published September 12, 2012. [link: http://www.knowla.org/entry/1137/]

5. Ibid.

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