Last week, at the age of 94, acclaimed US photographer Helen Brush Jenkins passed away. She would have been notable enough for her strident work in the photographic field, as a woman in an industry almost entirely populated by men.
But the image that secured her standing as one of the United States’ great photographers is this one. It gained international attention in 1953 because Brush Jenkins is both the mother and the photographer. The photograph was taken around a minute after the birth, a testament to her dedication.
But its significance is greater than that. According to this article, only fifteen years before the publication of this image, the same magazine – Life – lost a lawsuit for indecency for publishing similar images, in a case that saw the offending issue banned in over thirty cities. So Brush Jenkins’ photograph was as groundbreaking as it was astonishing. And it led to a great many other photographers exploring the field of childbirth in later years.
Brush Jenkins’ career, though, kicked off in the 1940s, when she was hired by a local newspaper in Los Angeles with most of her male counterparts away at war. The photographic industry is still dominated by men today, but it’s greatly improved from the time when she entered it, when editors would attempt to dictate how she dressed and would comment on the novelty of working with a woman. (Imagine that.)
On a related note, here is a blog post from a few months ago on Firecracker, an organisation set up to further the interests of women within photography.