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M. Watkins. Untitled. Lamp and Mirror c.1925





2021.05.03 - 2021.05.30


Curator: Anne Morin


The exhibition Black Light, produced by diChroma Photography, pays tribute to a great Lady of Photography, Margaret Watkins, who disappeared too soon from the surface of History because of a series of circumstances. Presented for the first time internationally at Tabakalera’s Kutxa Kultur Artegunea in San Sebastián, the retrospective covers the most important chapters of her career and reveals how Watkins not only had a meteoric rise within a short period of time, but also had the ability to be ahead of her time.


She was a pioneer who steered her professional career in a totally independent manner and blazed a trail so that other women were able to follow in her footsteps and continue. The exhibition, together with its accompanying catalogue, is one way to restore her visibility and rightful position in the History of Photography, which she undeniably contributed to shaping.


Despite not being recognised today, her name rubs shoulders with key figures such as Clarence H. White, Gertrude Käsebier, Alice Boughton, Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Stieglitz or Georgia O’Keeffe. Watkins contributed greatly to deploying the specific features of photographic language by becoming, to paraphrase László Moholy-Nagy, a true instrument of expression that allows us to see the world in a different way, and no longer simply a mechanical substitute for History Painting. Watkins became the link between a pictorialism in search of identity and avant-garde modernism.

This retrospective exhibition is divided into 5 distinct stages that marked the timeline of this outstanding photographer’s life and work:

1/ Genesis of a work, 1908-1915

This section deals with Margaret Watkins’ formative years at the Roycroft Arts and Crafts Community in East Aurora (New York), where she studied Art History and Lighting, then later at the Sidney Lanier Camp, where she was introduced to photography.

This stage also includes her time at the studio of commercial photographer Arthur Jamieson and at Clarence H. White’s summer school in Maine, where she gave free rein to an already well-defined visual grammar that was clearly inspired by nascent Pictorialism and the teachings of Clarence H. White, Gertrude Käsebier and Max Weber.


2/ Portraits

After moving to New York in 1915, where she worked as an assistant to the renowned photographer and brilliant illustrator Alice Boughton, she began to work in her unique method of portraiture. Many personalities from the world of art were portrayed at Boughton’s studio on 23rd Street: William Butler Yeats, Eugene O’Neill, Robert Louis Stevenson or Henry James. Watkins used blurred outlines, minimal depth of field, purified forms and discreet lighting in her portraits in order to endow her characters with unique qualities.


3/ New York, 1915-1928

After completing her training, Watkins began her career as a freelance photographer while teaching at the Clarence White School in New York. Her visual compositions are marked by extremely strict geometric forms, reminiscent of the paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe, and these herald the arrival of a new era in which avant-garde advertising and graphic design were to play an important role. Watkins worked tirelessly on advertising commissions for magazines such as The New Yorker, Ladies’ Home Journal and Country, as well as for Macy’s department, and became a renowned photographer.


4/ Europe, 1928-1969

Watkins sailed for London in 1928 with the prospect of a long tour of Europe. She visited the Pressa exhibition in Cologne and then continued her journey to Berlin, Potsdam, Paris and later Moscow, before ending up in Glasgow, where she was forced to take charge of the running of her family home.

Before her career was definitively compromised, Watkins had produced photographic work directly influenced by the New Objectivity, especially Albert Renger-Patzsch and his set of constructions in Glasgow, in which the metallic structure of the buildings assumed an aesthetic value in itself as the subject of the composition.


5/ Photomontages, 1930-1937

Watkins would never return to New York. She had already abandoned pursuing her career as a photographer. But between 1930 and 1937, she used images from her archive to incorporate them into another aesthetic fabric in order to compose photomontages in a flat, symmetrical manner. She created decorative figures, motifs and patterns that she would offer to textile manufacturers. These compositions are curiously reminiscent of Rorschach tests, formed by an ink stain placed randomly on a sheet of paper that duplicates the initial figure and becomes a symmetrical motif when folded.

(Lamp and Mirror) c. 1925 




 MARGARET WATKINS. Portrait Study Verna Skelton 1923MARGARET WATKINS (Canada, 1884 - Escotland, 1969)

Her apprenticeship with Clarence H. White, in the field of pictorial photography, profoundly influenced her photographic language. Her balanced and harmonious compositions are built according to an extraordinary handling of curved lines and proportions between emptiness and fullness. Her time at Jamieson’s studio, from whom she also learned to draw, and her work as an assistant to Alice Boughton, a renowned photographer and illustrator from whom she learned to take portraits (many personalities from the world of art, literature and theatre in New York passed through her studio), enriched her training and allowed her to develop as a photographer and open her own business in 1918. From then on, she would collaborate with large advertising agencies such as Condé Nast, Reimers and Osborn Inc. Advertising or the Fairfax Agency, and she was regularly published in large circulation magazines such as The New Yorker, Ladies’ Home Journal and Country. At the same time, she was also teaching at the Clarence White School in New York.

Watkins enjoyed an outstanding career as a freelance photographer and it continued to grow during the 1920s. She anticipated an avant-garde graphic design aesthetic that had already spread throughout Europe and whose origins dated back to the Bauhaus. Her work became more visible and famous and was also the focus of many group and solo exhibitions, the most important of which was staged at the Art Centre in New York in 1923.

The sudden death of Clarence White in 1925 marked the beginning of a decline in her career, ending in 1928 with her hasty departure for Europe to visit her aunts in Glasgow, where she ultimately had to remain to take care of them. She visited other cities in Europe and Russia in the early 1930s, when she took new photographs that demonstrated her ability to anticipate the major aesthetic and conceptual revolutions that would follow. Trapped by historical events on the eve of the Second World War, Watkins abandoned any attempt to pursue her career.

Margaret Watkins died in Glasgow in November 1969. Shortly before, she took the precaution of handing a black sealed box containing photographs and negatives to her young neighbour, Joseph Mulholland, without informing him of its contents. Mulholland therefore became the consignee of this incomplete life because of a simple twist of fate, thereby allowing this retrospective exhibition on Watkins’ work to become a reality

Margaret Watkins. Portrait Study. (Verna Skelton), 1923




Free guided tours: 


5.30pm in Basque  / 6.30pm in Spanish

Limited places

Prior booking is required by calling 943 3251937, at the Sala or writing to   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.    




Discard here the guide of exhibition: