Hamilton, Ontario-born Margaret Watkins (1884–1969) was a pioneering rebel who changed early twentieth-century photography, but until recently, the details of her fascinating life and groundbreaking practice were all but lost to history. As Mary O’Connor reveals in Margaret Watkins: Life & Work, the artist had a remarkable career that earned Watkins accolades for her work and influenced a generation of North American photographers. Watkins studied and taught with Clarence H. White (1871-1925), an original member of the Photo-Secession movement, before she became one of the first women to be hired as a photographer by a major advertising agency as well as a widely published and exhibited artist.
Although Watkins enjoyed great success in New York, in 1928, at the height of her career, she moved to Glasgow, Scotland, to care for ailing relatives. There, her practice ground to a halt and for decades Watkins lived in obscurity, staying silent about her accomplishments. Were it not for Watkins’s neighbour and friend, Joseph Mulholland, who inherited the carefully preserved archive of her astonishing body of work, the artist’s important contribution would never be known.
In Margaret Watkins: Life & Work Mary O’Connor reflects on her subject’s incredible biography and legacy. This volume offers profound insights into the tremendous talent of a woman who worried that she was being “domesticated to death”—and who responded with a collection of masterfully composed still lifes through which she forged a singular career in the history of photography.
Mary O’Connor is Professor Emerita in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University. An interdisciplinary scholar of modernism (1890–1939), women’s writing, and health and gender, she is particularly fascinated by social and cultural expressions of daily life. Her research on women and everyday objects led her to the remarkable photographs of Margaret Watkins. With Katherine Tweedie she has co-authored Seduced by Modernity: The Photography of Margaret Watkins (2007) and co-created the short film Archive Traces: Margaret Watkins Photographer (2022).