Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) was born during the American Civil War. Her 60-year career as a photographer began with portrait, news, and documentary work then turned to a focus on contemporary architecture and gardens, culminating in a survey of historic buildings in the southern United States.
In the 1880s, Johnston studied art in Paris and then returned home to Washington, DC, where she learned photography. She quickly established a national reputation as a professional photographer and businesswoman, with growing success in both the art and commercial worlds.
Johnston counted presidents, diplomats, and other government officials among her portrait clients, while in her personal life she travelled in more Bohemian circles.
In the 1890s and early 1900s, as one of the first photojournalists, she provided images to the Bain News Service syndicate and wrote illustrated articles for many magazines. Her active roles in pictorialist photo exhibitions and world’s fairs reflect her high level of energy and determination as well as her exceptional photographic talent.
An interest in progressive education resulted in pioneering projects to document students at public schools in Washington, DC; the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama; the Hampton Institute in Virginia; and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.