Jane Reece was born in West Jefferson, Ohio in 1869 where she cultivated an interest in the arts from an early age. Despite her mother’s discouragement, Reece secretly worked odd jobs to pay for lessons in piano and drawing. When Reece became ill with spinal meningitis, she was sent to North Carolina to recuperate. While there, she tried experimenting with oil painting but could not tolerate the harsh fumes from the turpentine. Although she had never used a camera, a nurse brought one to her and encouraged her to occupy her time taking pictures. When a local photographer allowed her to use his darkroom, Reece developed the first prints of her forty-year career.
In 1904, Reece returned to Ohio and started a studio in Dayton where she became known for her photographic portraiture. Having never had formal training, she continued experimenting with different techniques including making photographic silhouettes she would later call Camera Cameos
. In 1907, Reece’s work was recognized by the Photographers Association of America, and in 1909 she left Dayton to study photography for a year in New York.
Interested in the Photo-Secessionists, a group of New York photographers that believed that photography could be fine art, Reece wanted to gain formal training in photography. Clarence White, one of the group’s founding members, discouraged her from formal training, believing it would hinder her creativity and experimentation that had already resulted in interesting, artful prints. Instead, White had Reece work in his studio so other students could learn some of her printing techniques.
She returned to Dayton where she continued experimenting in the darkroom. The use of photography for artistic expression became an important part of her work, and she created a series of photographs in 1911 called The Soul in Bondage
which she shot through a scrim to soften her images. From 1919 to 1923 she traveled to California, Paris, and North Africa, shooting so much film that much was never developed. When she returned to Dayton, she set up a new studio and welcomed artists of all types to visit, exhibit, and perform.
During the 1940s, Reece was forced to give up photography due to failing eyesight. Her work continued to be recognized for the artist’s natural talent and willingness to experiment with innovative techniques in both shooting and developing. In 1961, after having achieved an international reputation in both her portraiture and Pictorialist images, Reece died in Dayton.
Gold Medal, International Salon, Edinburgh, Scotland (1929)
Sixth Place, Salon of Photography, Zaragoza, Spain (1928)
First Prize in Portraiture, Montreal Amateur Athletic Association Camera Club, Montreal, Canada (1921)