January 15, 1864 - May 16, 1952
“Photographer to the American Court”
Frances Benjamin Johnson was given her first camera by family friend George Eastman and studied photography under Thomas Smillie, director of photography at the Smithsonian. She began by taking photos of family and friends. By the 1890s Frances was touring Europe as a freelance photographer and serving as a scout for the Smithsonian.
Frances opened her own Washington DC studio in 1895. She became known as the “Photographer to the American Court,” photographing such luminaries as Mark Twain, Susan B. Anthony and Booker T. Washington. Thanks to her mother’s connections as a former congressional reporter, Frances became the official White House photographer for the Harrison, Cleveland, TR Roosevelt, and Taft presidential administrations.
Her work was not limited to portraiture of the elite. Frances travelled widely and was well known for her documentary photography of workers during this period. Along with Zadia Ben-Yusuf, Frances organized a collection of work by female photographers in 1900 for the Exposition Universelle in Paris.
Her later career focused on architectural photography, particularly in the southern states. Her work is part of the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as smaller museums such as the Baltimore Museum of Art.