Catharine Weed Barnes

Catherine Weed Barnes, Photographer
THIS is a generation of bright women, and in science, art, literature, or business we are constantly finding charming, womanly women, who adorn the professions to which they belong. Things have changed since Hawthorne, forty years ago, wrote of Hester Prynne in "The Scarlet Letter": "She possessed an art—then as now almost the only one within a woman's grasp, —needlework."

Still we have not reached the time when, as with the boy, a girl's education is conducted with a view to the business or profession she will take up at its completion. In the majority of cases, the evolution of women from the home to the outside life—the flint which has touched the true steel of their dormant powers—has been necessity of some kind, more or less pressing. Miss Catharine Weed Barnes, whose work as an amateur photographer has become widely known throughout this country and abroad, is a notable exception. Possessing talents, wealth, and social position, she has deliberately given up the life of leisure and social pleasure in which so many find the nepenthe for all woes and source of all joys, to take up a daily routine of photographic and journalistic work. Miss Barnes is the eldest daughter of the Hon. William Barnes and Emily P. Weed, and was born in Albany, where she received the earlier part of her education. Entering Vassar College, she would have been graduated from that institution but for an unfortunate illness brought on by overwork and which necessitated her withdrawal. Miss Barnes' favorite studies and her various occupations from her school days on, seem to have been, unconsciously, a preparation for her present work. Having no inclination for society, when not traveling at home or abroad she devoted a superfluous energy with which she seemed to be endowed to mastering the sciences of musk, vocal and instrumental, drawing, and painting, and showed no inconsiderable artistic and histrionic talent in private theatricals.

It was Miss Barnes' mother, whose devoted friend and companion she was, who first suggested to her the idea of taking up photography; but it was not until after the loss of her mother, when anything requiring undivided attention was a boon, that she devoted herself so entirely to it.

Her first studio was a room on the upper floor of the house, and the bathroom of her own suite of apartments answered for a dark room. There she sacrificed towels to photographic chemicals and the walls to printed rules, in her efforts to master the elusive mysteries. After working by herself for some time she felt the need of a wider outlook and, women not being admitted to the Photographic Club of Albany, joined the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York. Now, indeed, her work began to broaden. She was invited to read a paper before the society; this was followed by invitations from other clubs and photographic journals, where her thorough knowledge and practical ideas were appreciated, until now she has read papers before amateurs and professionals in many parts of the country.

She has been something of a pioneer in this, being in several instances the first woman ever asked to address the respective bodies. Her exhibitions of lantern slides have not been confined to photographic clubs; many other societies and guilds have enjoyed the benefit of her beautiful collection and personal descriptions. Lantern slides form a difficult feature of photographic work, great care being required in preparation, and the picture must be very perfect in the first place, every detail being thrown into relief on the canvas. Few women have attempted them Miss Barnes has a lantern slide camera which will reduce a picture as large as 14 x 17, and her slides were considered worthy of a diploma in Boston in 1888 and a silver medal in New York in 1891. As her skill increased, an ordinary room became too small and a commodious studio was built upon the grounds surrounding her home in Albany and there her portrait work and illustrating are done. The latter work presents many difficulties, and the interior of the studio represents a hovel, castle, or modern parlor, as "The Song of the Shirt," "Elaine," or one of Jean Ingelow's poems is the subject.

Miss Barnes' familiarity with literature and history serve good purpose here and her knowledge of painting and experience in dramatic work are all brought into play in preparing the adjuncts of these charming scenes. A great difficulty in illustrating is the lack of sympathetic models. Where the artist of the brush may idealize his model, the artist of the lens will, with the most appropriate setting for his picture, find only disappointment if the camera minors self-consciousness or lack of comprehension in the central figure. In some cases of this kind, Miss Barnes has solved the problem by taking the character herself, and by means of a tube ingeniously passed under a rug to be pressed by the foot at the proper moment, has been at the same time both model and artist. Jean Ingelow's "Widow-hood " in " Seven Times Seven," and " The Song of the Shirt " are examples of this double work. Miss Barnes' outdoor work is no less carefully done and if the most picturesque view can be obtained only from the middle of a brook she does not hesitate to obtain the view regardless of the discomfort.

Miss Barnes has long out-grown rules in her photographic labors and her work is now a law unto itself. A gentleman who was allowed to attend the mystical rites of her developing room said that her methods reminded him of nothing so much as those of a good cook, for she took a little of this and a pinch of that with apparent disregard of consequences. If "genius is an in-finite capacity for taking pains," Miss Barnes certainly possesses it. To a friend who complimented her upon an excellent photograph just completed, she said, " I spent three hours over that picture and spoiled any number of plates."

Last spring Miss Barnes attended the convention of the Photographic Society of Great Britain in Edinburgh where she was invited to read a paper, an honor greater in that conservative country than it would be in our own land. In England, Scotland, and Wales she was the guest of various photographic clubs and had every opportunity to gather material for her winter's work. She met many of the best known workers and editors, attended the Exhibition of Arts and Sciences, and visited the French Photographic Club of Paris. For such a trip three cameras, a thousand plates, and a sketch book formed the equipment.

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