Explore highlights from the first major presentation of Nancy Ford Cones's work. Her photographs were published in prestigious journals such as Camera Craft, as well as in popular outlets that included National Geographic magazine and Kodak advertisements. This exhibition demonstrates that she was an exceptional artist who rivaled the top photographers of her time. Craft and Camera: The Art of Nancy Ford Cones runs through January 15, 2023.
It was common in the early 1900s for female portrait photographers to travel to homes. This practice was not as accessible to men, as women felt more comfortable welcoming other women into their homes. Cones frequently traveled around Cincinnati to take family portraits, which often benefited from the comfort and ease of capturing a sitter in a familiar setting. Cones visited a home in the Cincinnati-area village of Indian Hill to photograph this mother and her young child. The elaborate crib, wallpaper, and grandfather clock mark the scene as a personal and well-to-do domestic space. Cones took advantage of the natural light coming through the back window and captured an everyday moment of play and intimate interaction, which would have been challenging to recreate in a studio setting.
Kallitype is a contact printing process, in which the negative and paper of the same size are sandwiched between two sheets of plate glass. The process was popular among amateur photographers in the early 1900s because of its excellent value; it provided a rich tonal range but was much cheaper to produce than other processes using metals, like platinum prints. Cones poses her daughter to suggest a narrative. Margaret balances precariously above the small cave, an imagined home of the creature that Cones whimsically refers to in the photograph’s title. With unkempt hair and dressed in a thin gown, Margaret plays a woodland nymph who might face the wrath of the gnome who lives inside the cave and guards the earth’s underground treasures.
Mr. Micawber is a clerk in Charles Dickens’s 1850 novel David Copperfield, who lives in poverty but is optimistic about a more prosperous future. Cones followed the lead of early illustrations of the novel to conjure up this character, presenting Mr. Micawber as a rotund man dressed in a suit, top hat, and crisp upturned collar. Cones recruited a local Loveland, Ohio grocer, Bill Stokes, to pose for her. Critics celebrated Cones’s photographic envisioning of this character when it was exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society in London in 1927. “‘Mr. Micawber’ by Nancy Ford Cones is a clever example of photographic illustration,” one critic wrote. “Such works show where America’s strength in camera work
¹ F. C. Tilney, “American Work at the London Exhibitions,” American Photography 21, no. 12 (December 1927): 668.
The Coneses’ daughter, Margaret, holds a Kodak camera and sits next to an unidentified neighbor in a Model T Ford. Cones made several photographs around 1912 specifically for use in Kodak advertisements. The company promoted photography as a modern leisure activity and appealed to women as the producers of family photo albums. In this photo Cones associates Kodak photography with the freedom and independence of automobiles. With one hand on the steering wheel, the woman glances down as Margaret peers through the viewfinder.