Born on February 10, 1859 in Hjorring, Denmark, Benedicte Marie Wrensted was one of four children born to Carl and Johanne Wrensted. Her father was a ship's captain and frequently away from home, leaving the matriarch as the de facto head of the family. After being educated in Frederikshavn, Miss Wrensted was taught photography by her aunt, local photographer Charlotte Borgen. At that time, photography was rapidly becoming the chosen profession of European women in need of supporting themselves, and was given further legitimacy in Denmark when the royal court appointed a female, Mary Steen, as official photographer, in 1888. It was Miss Steen who nominated Miss Wrensted for membership into the Danish Photographic Association, which signified elite professional status. She operated a moderately successful studio in Horsens for four years.
Following the death of her father in 1892, Miss Wrensted decided to join her brothers Theodor and Peter who had moved to the United States. She, along with her mother, arrived in the summer of 1894. After a brief visit with a relative in Philadelphia, mother and daughter settled in Pocatello, Idaho, with Peter and his family. At age 36, Miss Wrensted took position of 'Hower's Old Stand' on 132 South Main Street (later named Cleveland Avenue), which had been a popular destination for the Bannock and Shoshone tribes. Naturally, they became popular subjects for the town's only female photographer. Unlike her contemporaries like Pictorialist photographer Edward Curtis, Miss Wrensted was not interested in using her camera for social commentary. She was only interested in making a living, and therefore her photographs were tailored with only the sitters' preferences in mind. Her retouching typically involved removing the facial wrinkles of her subjects, and many of them wore contemporary nineteenth-century garments rather than traditional Native American attire when photographed. Painted backgrounds were also often substituted for natural surroundings. Nevertheless, Miss Wrensted's photographs were not lacking in aesthetic appeal. Her evocative use of natural lighting received some critical praise, with one reviewer describing the photographer as "an artist of talent and attainment." Nevertheless, Miss Wrensted remained virtually unknown beyond Pocatello, and few of her photographs were published in her lifetime.
Shortly after receiving her American citizenship in 1912, Miss Wrensted retired to southern California, living in Los Angeles for the remainder of her life. Benedicte Wrensted died on January 19, 1949 at the age of 88. While that should have been the end of her story, it turned out to be only the beginning. In 1984, Joanna Cohan Scherer, an anthropologist for the Smithsonian, uncovered a collection of 148 glass plate negatives at Washington, DC's National Archives that were simply labeled, "Portraits of Indians from Southeastern Idaho Reservations, 1897." Further research revealed the identity of the photographer as well as 84% of her subjects, to date. While many of Miss Wrensted's photographs continue to reside in the National Archives, many prints and enlargements from her negatives have been widely circulated. Her adopted hometown of Pocatello now has a Benedicte Wrensted exhibit in its Idaho Museum of Natural History, and digitalization of the collection was completed in 2016, and so these photographs once thought lost to history can now be easily accessed online.
2017 Benedicte Wrensted: An Idaho Photographer in Focus (URL: http://anthropology.si.edu/wrensted/intro.htm).
2017 Biography of Benedicte Wrensted (URL: http://anthropology.si.edu/wrensted/bioghist.htm).
2006 Book Puts Focus on an Overlooked Photographer by Martin Naparsteck (URL: http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=4208823&itype=NGPSID).
2007 Cowboys & Indians by Meghan Saar (URL: https://truewestmagazine.com/cowboys-a-indians).
2006 A Danish Photographer of Idaho Indians: Benedicte Wrensted by Joanna Cohan Scherer (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press), pp. 17, 21-24.
2006 NDQ, North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. LXXIII (Grand Forks, ND: University of North Dakota), p. 181.
2013 Pocatello by Walter P. Mallette and Lance J. Holladay (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing), pp. 11, 16, 56.
1996 Rediscovering an Idaho Photographer by Diane M. Bolz (URL: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/rediscovering-an-idaho-photographer-108733754).
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