Rediscovery: Canadian Women Photographers 1841 - 1941 - April 19th, 2006

Laura Jones, Toronto Ontario

Laura Jones

Laura Jones was the owner/manager of the Baldwin Street Gallery for thirteen years in the 1960s/70s. She lived at the gallery for eight of those years, taking extensive photographs of the Baldwin Street neighbourhood in downtown Toronto with her then partner John Phillips. In 1974 she became the thirty-eighth member of the newly established Photographic Historical Society of Canada, serving as the program coordinator at one time. She continues to buy books and images today and she has picture studies on all three floors of her home. Laura belongs to the American Photographic group "Women in Photography International" (there is no Canadian equivalent). In her talk, Laura discussed three Canadian women photographers plus her own work in documentary photography and a quick recap of the influence of women in the early days of photograph.

Laura Jones
by Robert Lansdale
Canadian Women's Studies Magazine

While researching for this talk, Laura learned that a Chinese woman invented a lens for the camera obscura and the earliest mention of the effect of chloride on paper was a discovery by a woman. In the 1840s a Mrs. Fond, alchemist, recorded the effect of chloride of gold on paper exposed to light. 

Fox Talbot's wife Constance helped him develop light sensitive papers and extensive letters note her help in developing her husband's images. For example, in 1839 she helped work out how to add iodine to Talbot's process to increase the paper's light sensitivity. In the case of Talbot's contemporary, Daguerre, the French gentleman's wife was not involved with his research and in fact was concerned that he was developing mental problems with his all-consuming interest in his new invention. Laura noted in the peak period of the Daguerreotype (1841-1855) there were 1,750 Daguerreotype studios in England of which only twenty-two were operated by women - and in fact the first Daguerreotype landscape was recorded by a woman. Ann Cook is credited with using a prism on the Daguerreotype camera to right the image which was reversed in the traditional camera. In 1841, a Mrs. Fletcher advertised that Daguerreotype miniatures were available in her Montreal studio. 

The early camera clubs were all-male. The clubs adopted a strategy to attract women photographers to increase membership - and attract more men as well. Even today, in spite of the large number of female art graduates, there are few women photographers. In fact, Laura found only two listed on a national site.

Mrs Fletcher's Ad

Laura began her slide presentation with Geraldine Moody (1854-1945) of Ottawa. Moody travelled as secretary with her husband who did field work for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). During the excursions, her husband recorded his findings while a Mr. McLean acted as official photographer. McLean had rather limited photographic skills while Mrs. Moody was an accomplished amateur photographer. Her photographs were so much better than the "official" ones that they were selected to accompany the written reports sent to Prime Minister Laurier and the CPR officials. The Glenbow Museum in Calgary retains a catalogue of her prints. You can visit the Glenbow on-line at

Photo by Geraldine Moody
Photo by Geraldine Moody
Photo by Geraldine Moody
Photos by Mattie Gunterman Photos by Mattie Gunterman Photos by Mattie Gunterman
Photos by Geraldine Moody
Photos by Mattie Gunterman

Laura's second woman photographer, Mattie Gunterman, was born in Wisconsin in 1872. Mattie often included herself in her photographs using a foot operated rubber ball and tube release. She was an enthusiastic photographer in the era of the Kodak and its innovative roll film. She took her Bull's Eye box camera with her when she moved to Seattle where she worked as a maid, married and had a son. Described as a delicate child, Mattie developed tuberculosis living in the damp Seattle climate and moved to the eastern part of Washington State each summer. When her condition worsened, She and her family moved north to Thompson's Landing in the British Columbia interior, walking the 600 miles snapping photographs and working for food and lodging. She spent the rest of her life in Thompson's Landing (now called Beaton). Her images, often posed and playful, are now preserved by the Vancouver Public Library (VPL). You can visit the library web site at and learn how the VPL  became the recipient of this visual history of the Arrow Lakes district of BC through a chance encounter with Mattie's son Henry years after her death.

Laura's final subject was Millie Gamble (1887- 1986), born in Cascumpec, Prince Edward Island (PEI). Millie became a teacher and taught at Tryon PEI (now Albany) for several years. In 1919, she moved to Winnipeg where she trained as an RN (registered nurse), later returning home to Tryon to practice. An avid amateur photographer, her photographs in the period 1905 - 1920 record every-day life in the Tryon area. These photographs and related papers are held by Archives PEI. For more information, visit their web site The Prince Edward Island web site has both a biography and images on its web site at I requested permission to include two of Ms Gamble's images and I am waiting a reply at this time (May 2006).

Laura has had a long time interest in documentary photography. In 1968, during the days of civil disobedience in America, she joined the Poor People's Campaign. This organization was founded in 1967 by four individuals including Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the year before King was assassinated.  Laura participated in the 1968 march on Washington DC (including the inevitable  arrest). The photographs she took at that time will be part of a 2008 exhibit being mounted in the US Capital to mark the 40th anniversary of King's death and the historic march on Washington. 

One of her recent projects was documenting a new generation of anti-war deserters and others speaking out against war in Iraq. She travelled to America on a weekend when people with a common interest got together to do stills and videos, and conduct interviews. The story of that weekend was compiled as a documentary film and sold to the NFB for distribution by web and satellite TV.

Next year (2007) the Baldwin Street images will be included in a book about Canada in the 1960s. "Dancing in the Streets" is a collection of photographs of the anti-war protestors who settled in the Baldwin street neighbourhood during the Vietnam War era. 

Laura recently travelled to South Africa with geographer-ecologist Dr. Judith Stamp. Her photographs and videos during the expedition are part of Dr. Stamp's "Good Food Field Guide" pilot project which highlights the best food growing practices of local farmers and gardeners.

Laura curated an 80 print exhibition "Rediscovery: Canadian Women photographers 1841 - 1941" at the London Regional Art Gallery. The exhibition was subsequently featured at other venues including the Art Gallery of Ontario. She currently teaches at George Brown College in Toronto. If you would like to learn more about Laura and her work, visit her web site at

Thanks to Laura Jones for permission to show some of her slides on this page. Some of the images were captured with a Sony F828 directly from the screen. Adjustments were made in Photoshop CS2. Contents and images are ©2006 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and other copyright holders . Contact PHSC if you would like more information on the items discussed on this page.

Click on most of the small images to see a larger version in a separate window.

Bob Carter

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