Jeannette Klute came to the Mechanics Institute in 1938 to study photography with determination and a strong sense of self—and not much else. In fact, she didn’t even own a camera or have any experience working in the photography field as nearly all of the 40 men in her class already did. At a time when photography jobs for women didn’t exist, Klute carved her own path in the workplace and eventually became a pioneer in the field of color photography as an art form.
Her first job was with Eastman Kodak Co. and within a year she was transferred to the research lab. She eventually started working in the field and took some of the earliest color photographs in the world. To date, her work has graced the walls of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, the George Eastman House and the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Klute, who passed away Aug. 3 at her home in Honeoye, N.Y., was hailed as a visionary. Barbara Erbland, a close friend and an assistant at Kodak, says, “She taught me everything—about light, color, about people—how to live well. She taught me you don’t make do, you make things happen.”
Although Klute was also an established painter and musician, she is best known for her nature photography, often traipsing through swamps to capture plant and animal life. Her book, Woodland Portraits, published in 1954, includes 50 color plates of dye-transfers she made of wild flowers and creatures found around her homestead and elsewhere. Klute’s archive was recently donated to the RIT Archives by her friends Nancy and Don Pease and will become a permanent part of RIT’s history.