Women Poets and Photography, 1860–1970

Women Poets and Photography, 1860–1970

Women Poets and Photography, 1860–1970

Curated by Sarah Parker, Lecturer in English at Loughborough University.

The invention of photography in the 1830s transformed the way poets were represented. Previously, the poet was viewed as an individual able to perceive eternal truths beyond the mundane world, and therefore associated with spirit rather than flesh. Photography lent an air of realism and embodiment, which challenged the ethereality associated with the poet. Photography’s newness and potential for mass reproduction also evoked connotations of publicity and self-exposure, connecting the poet to such earthly concerns as profit, the market and popularity.

These issues were particularly crucial to women poets, who faced the struggle of shaking off enduring associations of female celebrity with other manifestations of the ‘public woman’ (such as the actress and the prostitute). In the nineteenth century, women with a public role still had to rigorously manage their respectability. This slideshow traces the developing image of the woman poet, revealing how she negotiated photographic celebrity and forged a distinctive public persona. Whether as a scandalous performer or an elusive enigma, these women poets self-fashioned in ways that anticipate celebrity strategies today.