Celebrating Female Photographers at Planting Fields

As part of nationwide Olmsted 200 celebrations, Planting Fields Foundation opened a new exhibition in October 2022. Decisive Moments at Planting Fields: The Photography of Mattie Edwards Hewitt and Frances Benjamin Johnston celebrates the work of two groundbreaking American female landscape photographers.
Mattie Edwards Hewitt (1869 – 1956) and Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864 – 1952) were pioneers in the field of photography. Their work pushed the boundaries of photography as an art form, as well as the boundaries of what was considered a typical occupation for women around the turn of the century. Decisive Moments at Planting Fields features the work of Hewitt and Johnston taken here at Planting Fields in the 1920s.
When these women began their careers, the United States was experiencing multiple phenomena that Hewitt and Johnston took advantage of to carve out a niche for themselves. One factor was the rise of photojournalism and periodicals. Magazines such as House & Garden, Town and Country, and Vogue all began publishing around the turn of the century. As these magazines became references for the popular trends and styles of the day, there was an increased demand for photos of the houses and gardens of high society; a demand that Hewitt and Johnston were happy to meet.
Another social change that was happening was the emergence of the New Woman. In the early 1900s, women had not been granted the right to vote yet, were unable to own property, and their opportunities for education and work outside the home were limited. The New Woman sought to challenge these constraints, pushing the boundaries on what professions, clothing, and social activities were considered acceptable for women. This is the era in which Hewitt and Johnston established themselves as professional photographers and independent women.

This exhibition also marked the first Call for Photographs from Planting Fields. In the spirit of celebrating Hewitt and Johnston’s impact on the women of their time and on photography as an art form, we asked local female photographers to come to Planting Fields and reinterpret two photos by Hewitt. Many people rose to the task and sent photos showcasing their creative use of light, color, and perspective to reimagine the classic shots of the Garden Hedge near the Tea House and the Italian Garden. Seventeen photographers were selected and displayed in the gallery. The exhibition opening day was a celebration of not only Hewitt and Johnston, but also of the talented women that continue to capture the beauty of Planting Fields today.

Garden Hedge in Spring, M.E. Hewitt

Italian Garden, M.E. Hewitt

Featuring never before seen photographs and objects from our archives, this exhibition is not to be missed! Decisive Moments at Planting Fields will be on view until Spring 2023.

Emily Leger, Curatorial Assistant

This exhibition was made possible through generous grant funding provided by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

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