Exhibition Tip: Bertha Wakefield Beckmann (1815-1901) – Europe’s First Professional Photographer

With the help of a Camera Obscura the Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833), succeeded to capture the first images on a light-sensitive surface. All eight hours he needed at the time, to produce the first stable image: the view from the window of his work room. This Outlook is today the oldest surviving photograph.

Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) was so impressed by Niépces work, he was a partner. The two were trying to find a way to shorten the exposure time. It took years of tinkering and Werkelns to the first photo plate exposed in a few minutes. The ‘Daguerreotype’ was born.

Was at that time hardly to appreciate a new medium, whose strength and power with her. More and more inventors began to simplify the revolutionary medium in its operation, and to open it up for everyone.

One of the first ladies, who devoted her life of photography and whose development was the Leipzigerin Bertha Wehnert Beckmann. As the first professional photographer in Europe, their images belong to the most valuable in the history of photography.

The first professional photographer of Europe

In the years 1849-1851, she worked in New York. Their customers were politicians and Messenger, so also the 13th President of the United States, Millard Filmore. Afterwards, she returned to Leipzig and photographed great personalities of the city.

Musicians, scholars, merchants, such as Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann. Also devoted himself to Wakefield Beckmann of architectural photography and immortalized as one of the first Leipzig buildings on their images, that some no longer exist.

Bertha Wehnert Beckmann worked in a very special time. A time in which a single photograph of high value was, demanded much work and time, to best capture the motive for eternity. So, as the photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo once put it: I’m giving right now period.

Wakefield Beckmann was the company photographer of the city. The City of Leipzig Museum with the support of the East German savings bank Foundation is devoted to the 200th anniversary of the birth of the photographer the ‘life stations of this unusual woman and at the same time also the rapid development of early photography’, so Dr. Volker Rodekamp, Director of the history museum. A great appreciation for their valuable then as now work.

Over 3000 glass negatives from the 1860s and 1870s years can be seen. Including new discoveries such as a portrait of the later Mayor Bruno Tröndlin.

An exciting topic is also the idea of what it means to be self-employed as a woman at that time. I wonder whether the artist must have been a role model for other society ladies, confident to go their own way.

How are people known to the general public portrays? How were the people at the time dressed? How does this beautiful city of Leipzig looked 200 years ago? What awaited a German émigré in New York? There are so many questions are raised by me, and you make exciting old photos.

There are unique objects and originals from an exciting time which can be seen in the exhibition. The first images of a historically significant town and original photographs of big personalities, until today culturally incredibly valuable.

Bertha Wakefield Beckmann exhibition

By the 25.01 up to 26.04.2015 the exhibition is ‘the photographer. Bertha Wakefield Beckmann 1815-1901’ at the History Museum of Leipzig. I am very pleased to discover the old photographs and can recommend everyone who is close to this not to be missed.