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Reina A. Lawrence, 1869-1948

History has passed down limited information regarding Reina Lawrence. Likewise, her photographs have entered the archives with little corresponding information; there are no journals, no scrapbooks, her images are untitled and the vast majority lack dates. As the collection is comprised of glass plates and negatives, none of the information that frequently appears on the verso of a photographic print exists.


The majority of Lawrence’s images appear to address nostalgic themes of domesticity: family portraits, room interiors and picturesque gardens — themes generally deemed appropriate for the lady amateur. Yet Lawrence’s images display a determination to overcome the logistical difficulties inherent in photographing on glass plates, difficulties made worse by the physical limitations which she endured.

Having suffered polio as a child, Lawrence wore leg braces from the age of ten. At the age of twenty-two she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and is thought to have spent much of her life wheelchair-bound. Lawrence moved to Plainfield from New York in 1886, eventually residing at 512 Stelle Avenue in a home that still stands today. Though she never did marry, Lawrence did work professionally for a period as a freelance writer, and as a caterer working from her home. A staunch anti-suffragist, Lawrence’s editorials appeared in local papers as well as a published volume of opinions.

Attempts to narrowly date Lawrence’s images prove challenging. Many of her images are interiors or landscapes that lack the telltale signs of fashion and trends. However, a relatively fair gauge for approximate dating is the degree of technical proficiency that can be seen in Lawrence’s plates. Positing that more technically proficient plates reveal later work, a trend emerges whereby Lawrence’s pastoral landscapes and outdoor portraits are situated as some of her earlier images. In this vein, Lawrence’s more carefully controlled studies of brilliant natural light set against somber, darkened interiors would represent her later work. The implication of which suggests that as Lawrence’s disease progressed, and as physical hardship impeded her ability to travel even small distances, that her work became inwardly re-focused and reflective of her most immediate surroundings: her domicile.

Subject-related rhetoric aside, Lawrence’s voice in the archives remains important as it provides a unique female point-of-view. Additionally, as the work of an amateur photographer, Lawrence’s personal photographs provide the archives’ only example of images not originally intended for public display. As such, Lawrence’s private photographs, while undeniably privileged, offer a more truthful glimpse of the past, if none other than specifically her own history in Plainfield.

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