Figures in a Landscape
Marie Kendall, born Marie Hartig in 1854, was a professional photographer at a time when few women practiced the trade. Married to John C. Kendall in 1878, they moved to Norfolk, Connecticut in 1884, where Kendall opened her photographic practice. Known professionally as Mrs. J.C. Kendall, she was a self-taught photographer who recorded Norfolk’s many charms and developments, its people and their relationship to their landscape, and the surrounding environment.
Her notable images include this photograph of Sarah Bishop’s Cave, a landmark on West Mountain straddling North Salem, New York, and Ridgefield, Connecticut. Bishop was a hermit who escaped to the cave after the Revolutionary War, living there until her death in 1810. In Kendall’s photograph, a young woman stands at the entrance to the cave, leaning over the low stone wall to peer inside. Kendall’s decision to pose the girl outside the cave, and to include the surrounding environment – the bare shrubs and trees; vines and rocks – impart a sense of isolation; Sarah Bishop did not share her life with many people.
Her photograph of the stately façade of the Norfolk Public Library, with its manicured lawn and window boxes spilling over with flowers also provides a sense of place, albeit a very different one. The sidewalks, the fence marking the property line, the house next door, even the mountain in the distance with its barely-visible tower, suggest a kinder, gentler landscape, one that has been conquered and civilized. Despite the obvious influence of humanity, the people in the photograph are not even visible at first glance. The three-story building, with its barrel tile roof, scalloped shingles and rough-cut stone, dwarfs the six women who stand in its entryway and on the second-floor balcony. Their somewhat formal and definitely arranged poses, all eyes turned toward the photographer, stand in sharp contrast to the girl in Sarah Bishop’s Cave, who is so engaged in the act of looking that she doesn’t even seem to notice the camera.
These photographs are just two examples of Marie Kendall’s ability to capture the varied relationships between people and their environments. In October 2013, the Connecticut Historical Society will explore this and other themes in an exhibition of the work of Marie Kendall, Harriet V.S. Thorne and Rollie McKenna, three prominent Connecticut women photographers.