British photographic history

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Margaret Watkins: A new photo exhibition

This highly distinguished and important photographer Margaret Watkins (1884 - 1969), who died in obscurity in Glasgow, is back in the spotlight with a new exhibition focusing on Glasgow in the 1930s.

Born in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1884, Watkins was active in New York in the 1920s, where she had a studio in Greenwich Village and worked with Clarence White and the other great photographers of the period including Stieglitz and Strand. Her work in advertising and art photography was often innovative and experimental, and she exhibited internationally.

In 1928 she visited her four elderly aunts in Glasgow, which became her base for the rest of her life, allowing her to travel in Europe and particularly in Russia where she made some of her most striking work. However, after the war she became very reclusive. Joe Mulholland was her neighbour, but in the many years he knew her, she never referred to her photographic career and it was only after her death that the nature and scale of her achievement became evident.

A newspaper article on Watkins can be found here, and details of the exhibition here.

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Comment by Mike Ware on November 30, 2010 at 11:37
Donald - It's great to know that Joe Mulholland's archive extends back to Watkins' NY work, some of which was evidently carried out in palladium - this is a much rarer medium than platinum, historically speaking, because the paper was only produced commercially from 1917-1937. When I emerge from hibernation among the deep, white precipitates of Buxton, I shall be heading North! Mike.
Comment by Donald Stewart on November 29, 2010 at 14:51
Mike - Had a look at the Mann Gallery Watkins images. Joe has all and more of the ones listed as vintage palladium, including two versions of The Wharf, one of which is a reverse print. Donald.
Comment by Donald Stewart on November 29, 2010 at 14:40
Ah, Mike and I thought you Derbyshire folk were tough. Why not come now we only have about 18 inches of lying snow which would make the drive over to Glasgow quite fun. Thanks for your comments. Will look at the Mann Gallery. There may be information on the back of the prints which might help : I've only ever seen them framed. I will ask Joe when I see him in the next few weeks. Best wishes, Donald
Comment by Mike Ware on November 29, 2010 at 13:52
Many thanks indeed, Donald, for all that helpful information; I may well take you up on your kind offer - later, when North Britain looks a bit less like Antarctica. Meanwhile I shall seek out the literature that you cite. One cannot reliably distinguish between Pt, Pd, and Pt/Pd just by eye - it takes XRF to be certain, if the original printing paper used has not been recorded. The website of the Robert Mann Gallery shows some beautiful examples of "vintage palladium prints" by Watkins. Best wishes, Mike
Comment by Donald Stewart on November 29, 2010 at 12:47
To Mike Ware - Hi Miike, Having seen the Watkins early prints close to, they certainly appear to be either Pt or Pt/Pd. My best guess would be the later but will bow to your greater knowledge of these things. The tonality is certainly warm but this could possibly be either from the developer or post-development toning. They are certainly beautiful prints. Some of the prints in Pictorialism into Modernism are catalogued as silver gelatin which I think is wrong, particularly the early ones of CHW himself and others as Palladium which I think may be correct.Unfortunately the O'Connor/Tweedie book doesn't go into much by way of techinical detail about her work. If you would like to see them for yourself I would be happy to arrange introductions to Joe whom I know would be delighted to share his enthusiasm for Margaret's work with you. Regards, Donald.
Comment by Donald Stewart on November 29, 2010 at 12:30
Ther are two good books which cover Margaret. One which deals with the Clarence White School called Pictorialism into Moderinism published by Rizzoli and is a general review of the CHW school, its ups and downs and includes many of Margaret's photos. The more useful, I think, is Seduced by Modernity - The Photography of Margaret Watkins by Mary O'Connor and Katherine Tweedie and published by McGill-Queen's University Press. This deals with Margaret's life and photography in detail and has been reviewed by me for the Scottish Society for the History of Photography journal, Studies in Photography - 2011 edition. Anyone interested will find Joe Mulhollland not only a great source of information but a very approachable guardian of Margaret's work. My own opinion is that superb as her early New York work was it is in her European work including the superb images of 30s and 40s Glasgow that she reached her full maturity as a photographer.
Comment by Michael Pritchard on November 29, 2010 at 5:56
I think Donald Stewart should be able to help...
Comment by Mike Ware on November 28, 2010 at 11:05
Thanks to Joe Mulholland for making this wonderfully sensitive work more widely known and accessible. In view of Margaret Watkins' history at the Clarence White School, can anyone enlighten me about the medium of her early prints? 'On-screen' (I have not had a chance yet to examine originals) it looks as if some could well be platinum or palladium. This would be most relevant to my present historical study of Pt/Pd printing after WWI.

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