Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Julia Ann Rudolph: Capturing the Light

California is one of the few regions in the United States where the earliest women photographers has been the subject of scholarly research. Searching historical records for women photographers, painters, and sculptors requires considerable patience and exploration. Even today, female artists and photographers variously use their maiden names, change their last names to make recognition and pronunciation easier, or get married and take their husband's names. These changes make the search to correctly attribute work to the woman, especially for those working before the turn of the last century, infinitely more challenging. Our featured artist, Julia Rudolph also worked under the names Julia Ann Raymond, Mrs. James Ferdinand Rudolph and Julia Ann Swift.

Photography is one of the most historically significant inventions of all time. Although the principle of the camera was known in antiquity, the chemistry needed to register an image did not occur until the nineteenth century. Renaissance artists used a camera obscura (Latin for dark chamber), or a small hole in a darkened box that would pass light through the hole and project an image upside down of whatever was outside the box. It was not, however, until the invention of a light-sensitive surface created by Joseph Nicephore Niepce that the basic principle of photography was born.
Camera Obscura
The early pioneers in the medium experimented with its use as strict documentary photography during the Civil War, then setting up still-lifes and art-style portraits. Although it is thought that photography was almost exclusively a male-dominated profession, women have been involved with he medium since its invention in 1839.  By the mid 1840s, women were well established as commercial photographers in cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York, and St. Louis.

Julia Ann Rudolph
Nevada City, 1856
ca. 1856
Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
Julia Ann Rudolph was one of California's earliest photographers. The exact dates of her birth and death is unknown however, it is believed she lived from approximately 1820-1900. Rudolph was active in Utica, New York from 1852-1855; Nevada City, California from 1856-1860; and Sacramento, California from 1863-1890. Peter Palmquist, photography historian, claimed that "Rudolph's 36-year tenure as a California photographer is remarkable," and constitutes "an exceedingly rare longevity for a woman in that profession during the 19th century."

Rudolph was a studio portraitist who produced daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes mounted in leather and paper as was customary in the first decades of photographic portraiture. She was published in Hutchings' California Magazine (1857) with an engraving based on her ambrotype of Edward E. Matteson, developer of the hydraulic mining system.

Julia Ann Rudolph
Photograph of an unknown woman subject
ca. n.d.
Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
Julia Rudolph trained for the teaching profession and received her certificate in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1839, the same year that the first photographic process, the daguerreotype, was announced in France. By 1852, she was working as an operator in Daniel David Tompkins Davie's daguerreotype gallery in Utica, New York, and by April 1856, she had relocated to California in the former galleries of noted daguerreian George O. Kilbourn in Nevada City. The advertisement that noted her debut there stated, "she has all the latest instruments and chemicals and with the light of the gallery, which is unsurpassed by any in the state, she is confident of making the most perfect likenesses as well as beauty of tone and finish."

Julia Ann Rudolph
Mrs. Campbell
ca. n.d.
Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
By 1855, Julia was married and using the last name, "Raymond." She dealt in daguerreotypes but was prepared to work with photographs on paper as soon as the chemicals that she had ordered became available. The gallery burned in the fire of July 1856 and by September, Julia opened a new gallery on the same street adding ambrotypes to her repertoire. Sometime within the following three months, she reverted to using her maiden name, "Swift," indicates that she had undergone a divorce. In December of 1856, Julia married a pharmacist, James Ferdinand Rudolph, and she operated her business using his last name.

Julia Ann Rudolph
Photograph of a Young Girl in a White Dress
ca. n.d.
Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
 Julia Ann Rudolph
Photographs of Carrie Rudolph and Kate Y. Rudolph as Young Girls and Toddlers
ca. n.d.
Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
In September of 1860, Rudolph announced the closing of her ambrotype gallery in Nevada City and, by 1863, she and her husband had moved to Sacramento which remained in business until 1890. Rudolph's photographs are in the collection of the California State Library, Sacramento, the Women in Photography International Archive, Arcata, California, and the Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
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Sources:
For information on the early photographic process and various techniques see Early Photography, Niepce, Talbot, and Muybridge, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/becoming-modern/early-photography/a/early-photography-nipce-talbot-and-muybridge, retrieved April 13, 2015.
Women Artists of the American West, Susan R. Ressler ed., McFarland & Co, Inc., 2003.

Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865, Peter E. Palmquist, Thomas R. Kailbourn, Stanford University Press, 2000.