By Kayla J. Marsh
A nonprofit dedicated to advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy, education and research, celebrated the influence women have had on the world of photography.
The Northern Monmouth County Branch of AAUW (American Association of University Women) served as the host to “The Click Chicks” at the Eatontown Community Center, 58 Broad St., on March 7 to look through the lens on why pictures are truly worth a thousand words.
Th talk showcased the work of a pioneer in the field as well as that of local photographers who are currently helping to shape the profession.
Beginning the evening, AAUW member Carol Walther took attendees back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries to talk about Alice Austen, a pioneering woman photographer born in 1866 who often focused her camera on the well-to-do of her own turf.
“Alice’s position in the history of American photography is worth noting,” Walther, an Austen historian, said. “She was an experienced photographer by the time Alfred Stieglitz exposed his first negative and she took her first photograph in the 1870’s, about 20 years before Edward Steichen bought his first camera in Milwaukee.”
Walther, a former photography curator who was introduced to the world of art at a young age by her father, said she was first introduced to Austen’s work when she worked at the Historic Richmond Town Restoration on Staten Island.
“Alice was introduced to photography by her uncle Oswald, a Danish sea captain who had brought home a camera when Alice was ten years old and taught her how to use it,” she said. “Her uncle Peter was a chemistry professor and he taught her how to use chemicals to develop her images and how to make prints from them.”
Walther said Austen loved to carry her camera equipment about the streets of New York where she would shoot pictures of the newsgirls and newsboys, and snap photos of the immigrants when they came into New York.
Some of the work Walther presented included Austen’s pictures of her ‘Clear Comfort’ home; a young Austen posing in her Sunday best; and a self-portrait Austen took of herself posing on her home porch in her favorite yellow dress.
“I put the photos in sleeves, I preserved, I followed every trail and it was an amazing experience and the best thing that I learned was that she had such a tremendous sense of humor, such wonderful pictures.”
AAUW member Barbara Withers said she has always been a fan of the arts and photography.
“I was given a Kodak Brownie camera by my father when I was young … and it seems that a love of photography has really been a part of my life all along,” she said.
“I worked as an educator and an editor for most of my career and had access to a monopoly of services and that is where I first started taking a lot of pictures.”
Documenting children in education settings, Withers said she published some of the photos and got even more experience going into photography school.
“That was one of the most extensive learning experiences,” she said. “A lot of the learning about how to photograph and what you want to photograph just comes along with looking at photographs and critiquing photographs and reading magazines and just being aware about things around you.
“It’s about what you see and how you look at things.”
In graduate school, Withers said she learned to print black-and-white photos, and lately, she has spent time traveling, most recently to Antarctica, photographing natural and urban landscapes, nature and architecture.
“What I do now in my travel is taking [photos of] whatever I see and what speaks to me and what I want to remember, and then when I get home and look through all these photographs, I figure out what the story is that I want to tell,” she said. “The digital age has changed things so rapidly but … there’s always something new you can learn.”
For Marilyn Baldi, who was a guest at the event, photography is a new addition to her resume.
“I was always interested in the fine arts and really never had the chance to do anything about it,” she said. “My degree were in education and psychology y so there was never really any time to do art.”
It wasn’t after retiring and taking some art classes that she realized a change was needed.
“I got to a point where I felt I needed change and one of my friends said ‘well you should really try photography’ … and then I started taking photographs in 2009,” she said. “I’ve come a long way and while I still don’t know what I am doing with a camera, I am having a good time.”
For Baldi, who recently returned from a trip to Malaysia, photography has become an avenue for educational and inspirational journeys, a way to pause and take a closer look at the world around her.
“I love architecture, I love the water and reflections,” she said. “You see things with a camera and it stops the motion and it fascinates me.
“Many people have enjoyed what I have done and that is what gives me pleasure, that someone else can enjoy it and I really appreciate that and it means something to me.”