In today’s episode of the “Anarchistic Archivist,” we’re going to focus on a photographer whose work is inexplicably trapped behind a paywall seven years after her death and SEVENTY-EIGHT years after her first photos were published.
A quick introduction: At age 26, Dorothy Hosmer quit her secretarial job, picked up her camera, bought a third-class steamer ticket, and went to Europe. In Florence, she wrote to National Geographic to see if they’d be interested in running an article or two about her trip. The editors were inclined to say no. “I should imagine [that a certain percentage of readers] wouldn’t want their daughters to read this story fearing that it might give them the idea that it was all right to travel the world on one’s own if such an account appeared in the Geographic,” said one charming fellow.
But the editor with the biggest title over-ruled the haters, and in 1938, the magazine published Hosmer’s account of her solo cycling trip through Romania and the Ukraine. That pamphlet has been the most lasting of her projects, but it’s far from her only work. Hosmer was a lifelong photographer, even after marrying a Wall Street banker (her name became Dorothy Hosmer Lee) and throughout a career with the U.S. Air Force that lasted until 1971. She continued to travel until her death in 2009.
In 2011, family members donated more than 6,000 of Hosmer’s photos and negatives to the Sweeney Art Gallery at USC. The museum hosted one exhibit of her work, but that was about it. There’s no mention of her on the museum’s website — not even a bio, much less a digitized selection of her photos:
So, okay, how about National Geographic? Recently, they put together a nifty women photographers project, which includes a book that features some of Hosmer’s work. Great!
But even if (and that’s a big if) you successfully follow NatGeo’s convoluted web path to the book listing, you’ll still find no mention of Hosmer in association with it. In fact, the book’s marketing doesn’t use the names of ANY of the women it includes, other than Ann Curry, who wrote the introduction. This is clearly a lightweight coffee-table book, which is fine, but it would be a stretch to call it a meaningful attempt at highlighting Hosmer — or any of its subjects. Also, I’m not paying $30 for a book that I can’t preview even a little bit.
Since I’m interested in Hosmer’s writing, too, I tried another route and attempted to hunt down her 1938 pamphlet on cycling through Romania and the Ukraine. But National Geographic runs a tight ship. I’m not going to subscribe just to access one story from NINETEEN THIRTY-EIGHT, and I’m also not going to pay $15 for a goddamn pamphlet from an Amazon scalper.
EBay to the rescue. One pamphlet seller actually posted images of it! And I’ve reposted those images here! Why? Because selling Hosmer’s pamphlet isn’t going to make anybody rich (nor should it), and making it so f’ing inaccessible does not help keep her memory alive.
So, world, I present to you: “An American Girl Cycles Across Romania.” Or at least most of it.
Yeah, alright, it’s pretty obvious that Hosmer’s art was imagery, not words. The play-by-play diary was a common style for travel writers of that era, and yes, it’s a snooze.
But just look at those photos! Hosmer’s interest in the daily activities of Transylvanian women is extremely unique. She didn’t sensationalize the poverty of the Roma or get too caught up in the mysticism that’s become the stereotype of the region. She showed us ordinary, pious, and industrious people living in villages that had their shit together.
And some of those photos are just downright pretty.
It’s a thin bench this time. Here are two good articles about Hosmer: