| Emmons, Chansonetta Stanley, 1858-1937.
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One of the few women of the 19th century to establish a career in photography, Emmons is known for her touching scenes of rural Maine life, evocative landscapes, and incisive travel photographs. She lived in the house at 22 Harley Street on Ashmont Hill for only a few years. On February 2, 1887, she married James N.W. Emmons. Unfortunately James' business habits caused the couple to live in a precarious manner, forcing them to move numerous times. Her brother, F.O., purchased the house at 22 Harley Street for Chansonetta in 1895. She gave birth to a daugher, Dorothy, in 1891, and she rediscovered the camera. She took several photographs of home-life in Dorchester in the later 1890s. James died unexpectedly of blood poisoning in 1898 at the age of 41. Chansonetta and Dorothy were forced to give up the Dorchester home and moved to an apartment in Newton.
Little recognized in her own day, she captured on film a rapidly changing America. Her known work includes black-and-white prints and original hand-colored glass slides, as well as a 1900 scrapbook The images reveal the reflective nature of her vision and her interest in memory and the passage of time. Born in Kingfield, Maine, the young Chansonetta became interested in photography after her enterprising older brothers F. E. and F. O. Stanley invented a new method for dry-plate printing in 1883 (they also collaborated on the early automobile the Stanley Steamer). After her husband's death in 1898 she increasingly relied upon photography as a means of emotional and financial support. Being both a woman and a photographer at a time when being either placed one somewhat outside the accepted parameters of the art world, Emmons was obliged to be resourceful when it came to fashioning a career.
Although her brothers by this time millionaires thanks to their inventions would provide assistance throughout her life, Emmons's independent spirit drove her to participate in numerous competitions and camera club exhibitions throughout the Northeast, and in the 1920s to initiate a series of successful lectures which featured her best photographs reproduced in hand-colored glass lantern slides.
Shelling Corn is one of those images, probably first printed as part of the 1900 photo album and later reworked as both a slide and an oil painting (one of her few known to exist). Typical of the rustic genre scenes for which Emmons would become best known, Shelling Corn is a poignant look back at rural America as the 19th century gave way to the 20th. By carefully selecting and posing her sitter as well as his environment, Emmons fashioned an image that alludes to an earlier time, thus inspiring nostalgia for a way of life in eclipse.
Emmons's concern for elegantly and painstakingly composed images allies her with the avant-garde ideas of "pictorialist" photography, which sought to apply the aesthetic characteristics of painting to the new art form, thus maximizing its emotional and visual effects. This is particularly true of her rarely-seen, intimate, and elegant studies of nature, such as Spider Web (n.d.). Highlighting the spider's handiwork as well as the photographer's, this image may be read as an evocative metaphor for the feminine creative impulse.
It must be remembered that relatively few persons in the first thirty years of this century were photographing the "domestic vernacular" especially in northern New England. The rural New England of the early 20th century as seen through Mrs. Emmons' ground glass is gone forever. The landscape has changed, the people have changed, and America itself has changed.
Peladeau, Marius B. Chansonetta: The Life and Photographs of Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, 1858-1937. Waldoboro, ME: Maine Antique Digest, 1977.
"Recollected Images." A brochure published by the Portland Museum of Art to accompany an exhibit in the year 2000.
Also: Stanley Museum, Kingfield, Maine.
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Created: May 1, 2005 Modified: May 1, 2005