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  Alice Hughes, Photographer

Alice Mary Hughes was born to painter Edward Hughes and Mary Ann Pewtner Hughes on August 3, 1857 in London, England. After studying photography at London Polytechnic, she decided to pursue photography as a way of documenting her father's work. But gradually, she shifted her lens from paintings to portraiture. In 1886, she began operating a studio out of her home as a one-woman operation, doing everything herself, including developing and retouching. By 1891, Miss Hughes opened a studio on Gower Street in London, where she eventually as many as 60 women to handle developing and processing film. Royalty and society women became her specialty, and soon Miss Hughes was being heralded as the world's most popular female photographer.

A tireless self-promoter, Miss Hughes became a favorite interview subject in the late 1890s, and defended her choice to only photograph women and children on aesthetic grounds, explaining simply, "Ladies, of course, make… much prettier pictures than do their husbands and brothers." Further bucking Victorian convention, she preferred relaxed rather than rigid poses and photographed her ladies in natural light only, adding, "My backgrounds are painted to produce an effect full of light and shade." Miss Hughes justified charging high prices for the high quality images her gallery produced, only platinotype or carbon photographs rather than conventional silver prints because they fade quickly. She wanted to produce photographs that, like paintings, could withstand the test of time.

Miss Hughes understood she was charting unknown territory as the photography profession had earned the global reputation of being a male-only vocation. Nevertheless, she believed it was one of the few careers in which Victorian women could support themselves if they needed to, citing herself as a prime example. Miss Hughes had achieved a level of professional success that was envied by her male contemporaries. From 1898 to 1909, hundreds of her portraits were featured in Country Life magazine, and in 1910 Miss Hughes sold more than 50,000 negatives to Speaight Ltd. However, she remained very much a product of her time, and soon saw her profitable market of society women who had little do do but pose for elaborate portraits disappear with the onset of World War I.

Relocating to Berlin in 1913, Miss Hughes opened a gallery, but never matched her earlier success. Quietly returning to London before war's end, she opened a studio on Ebury Street, out of which she operated for the next several years. She closed her studio in 1925 and enjoyed more than a decade of retirement before her death in the seaside village of Worthing in 1939. Several of Alice Hughes's portraits presently reside in London's National Portrait Gallery, and provide visitors with a rare glimpse into the nineteenth-century aristocracy, from the female perspective.

2017 Alice Hughes (URL:

2017 Alice Hughes (1857-1939) (URL:

1962 Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends, 1839-1960 by Helmut Gernsheim (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.), p. 238.

2009 Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland edited by Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor (London: The British Library), p. 295.

1996 Illuminations: Women Writing on Photography from the 1850s to the Present edited by Liz Heron and Val Williams (London: I. B. Tauris Publishers), pp. 3-7.

1897 The Lady's Realm, Vol. II (London: Hutchinson and Company), p. 392.

1909 The Photographic Times, Vol. XLI (New York: The Photographic Times Association), pp. 424-425.

2017 Popular Passions (URL:

1897 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXXIV (New York: Edward L. Wilson), p. 304.

2014 Women Writing Art History in the Nineteenth Century by Hilary Fraser (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), p. 142.

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