Jeannette Klute: A Photographic Pioneer
By Therese Mulligan, professor in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences
A. Sue Weisler
A new book published by RIT Press explores the life and work of Jeannette Klute (1918-2009), a groundbreaking figure in color photography who began learning her craft as a student at the Mechanics Institute (renamed RIT in 1944) and rose to become a visual research photographer and lab supervisor at Eastman Kodak.
“Klute’s story is uniquely tied to RIT’s role in photographic education, the Eastman Kodak Co.’s prominence and the history of color photography in the U.S.,” said author Therese Mulligan, professor and administrative chair of RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences. The book is the first in a new series celebrating the university’s rich history and the unique holdings that are preserved by the RIT Archives. With full color photographs and personal papers from the Jeannette Klute Collection held at the RIT Archives, the book illustrates Klute’s commitment to her work using the dye transfer process that was developed at Kodak.
Klute began taking photography classes at the Mechanics Institute in 1938, when the photography industry was largely dominated by men. She was one of only three women in a class of 43 students, but Klute “was one determined person” and remained undaunted, said Mulligan. Klute used the skills she learned at the Mechanics Institute and her unwavering resolve to obtain an entry-level position at Kodak as a lab assistant. Soon she began working with her mentor and Kodak scientist Ralph M. Evans on the development of color photography using the dye transfer process. By the time she retired in 1982, Klute had developed countless advancements in color photography, rose the ranks to manage the Photographic Technology Studio and paved the way for other women in the industry by hiring them to work in her labs.
In addition to being a skilled researcher, Klute was also a talented fine art photographer and received perhaps the greatest acknowledgement of her work when she was one of 50 women included in the groundbreaking 1975 exhibition Women in Photography, An Historical Survey.
A new exhibition dedicated to Klute’s work is open through Nov. 3, at RIT’s William Harris Gallery, on the third floor of Gannett Hall. Both the book and the exhibition heavily feature photographs from Woodland Portraits, her monograph that celebrated the flora and fauna of the woodlands at her home in South Bristol, N.Y., and Derivations, her more experimental work that appeared in Kodak publications. Jeannette Klute: A Photographic Pioneer is available for purchase ($21.95) at the RIT Press website or by calling RIT Press at 585-475-6766.
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