Tag Archives: Seattle Camera Club

Exhibitions on View: ‘Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride’

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Ella McBride, Untitled (self-portrait with camera shadow), circa 1921. Gelatin silver print, 9¾ × 7⅜ inches. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Janet Anderson Collection UW38940.

We are delighted to distribute the catalog, Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride, to accompany the exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum. The exhibition is on view through July 22, 2018.

Internationally acclaimed fine-art photographer Ella McBride (1862–1965) played an important role in the Northwest’s photography community and served as a key figure in the national and international pictorialist photography movements. Despite her many accomplishments, which included managing the photography studio of Edward S. Curtis and being an early member of the Seattle Camera Club, McBride is little known today. Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride reconsiders her career and the larger pictorialist movement in the Northwest.

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Edward S. Curtis, Untitled, 1897. A party of Mazamas on the summit of Pinnacle Peak. Mount Rainier 1897 Collection, Mazamas Library and Historical Collections, VM1993-016 print03. [McBride is the woman in the center in the striped shirt, bow tie, and high crowned hat. Curtis is to her left, holding a camera, wearing glasses and a white neckerchief.]

An avid mountain climber, McBride was a member of the Mazamas, a Portland, Oregon mountaineering organization. She met Edward S. Curtis in 1897 when he was leading an ascent of Mt. Rainier. They became friends and Curtis convinced her to leave her teaching position to relocate to Seattle and assist him in his studio. She accepted, and by 1907, she was the manager of his studio. In 1916, she opened her own commercial studio, which she operated for more than thirty years.

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Ella McBride, ‘A Shirley Poppy,’ 1925. Gelatin silver print on Textura tissue, 9½ × 7¼ inches. Private collection. Photo © TAM, photo by Lou Cuevas. [‘A Shirley Poppy’ was shown in nineteen national and international salons.]

McBride embraced the painterly qualities of Pictorialist photography enthusiastically. In 1921, she participated in her first exhibition. During the 1920s, she was listed as one of the most exhibited Pictorialist photographers in the world. She was a prominent member of the Seattle Camera Club (active 1924–1929). She also worked as an advocate for the environment and cofounded the Seattle branch of the Soroptimist Club, an organization for business and professional women.

Unfortunately, her artistic ambitions were cut short by the realities of the Great Depression. Most of McBride’s photographs and negatives have been destroyed, but you can see some of her studio photos here.

Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride surveys McBride’s development as an artist and her role in Washington’s early photography community through a selection of over sixty of her images of flowers, still lifes, portraits, and landscapes. This exhibition was organized by Tacoma Art Museum and is part of the museum’s Northwest Perspective Series. 

All images photo © TAM.