Charlotte Brooks, a well regarded mid-century photo-journalist, thought of herself as a “sociologist with a camera”. Brooks’ thoughtful photographs document the changing face of America from the 1940’s through the 1970’s.
She studied with Bernice Abbott at the New School for Social Research and in 1942 got a job assisting photographer Barbara Morgan, famous for her images of modern dance pioneer Martha Graham. In 1943 she was hired as Gjon Mili’s assistant and became well versed in his Modernist style. She branched out on her own in 1944. After her images were brought to the attention of Roy Stryker, famous for the photographic work done for the Farm Securities Administration, Charlotte joined his project at Standard Oil. This group of photographers made a complete socio-geographical portrait of the country during WWII, still considered one of the finest documentary projects ever undertaken. The job ended in 1946 when Stryker’s FSA team returned from the war.
After freelancing for the next three years, her friend Arthur Rothstein introduced her to the people at LOOK magazine in 1951. She became the only female staff photographer during LOOK’s history where she remained until its demise in 1971. Brooks broke ground and changed the workplace for future women photojournalists. When she joined the American Society for Magazine Photographers she was only one of three female members. In 1953 she served as its secretary and vice-president in 1955 and negotiated hard to change the gender differential in pay.
In the years following LOOK, Charlotte conducted photography workshops for the U.S. State Department during the Cold War, in Romania and Soviet Georgia. Later in life she produced photographic images for a number of books and gave photographic classes at a local community center.
It was when Anne Kingman Page, owner of the Kingman Gallery and Charlotte’s god daughter, was organizing her work to send to the Library of Congress, which holds her archives, that the idea of the Kingman Gallery was born. With so many talented photographers Anne thought her underused wall space would be a venue to show photographs while she worked years on Charlotte’s project. Thankfully the gallery has continued to inspire and thrive.