Born February 10, 1859, in Hjørring, Denmark, Benedicte Marie Wrensted grew up and went to school in Frederikshavn. She learned photography from her aunt, Charlotte Borgen, in the 1880s.
Benedicte was a professional photographer in Horsens, Denmark and had a studio there for about four years. Emigrating to the United States with her mother Johanne in July of 1894, she first went to Philadelphia to visit a cousin, then traveled to Pocatello, Idaho where her brother Peter lived.
When she arrived in 1895, there were already several commercial photographers in Pocatello. Wrensted purchased the studio of A. B. Hower in about November of 1895.
Benedicte Wrensted advertised her growing business regularly in The Pocatello Tribune and took portraits of both Euro-Americans and Native Americans. In 1912, at the age of 53, the same year she became a United States citizen, Wrensted ended her career as a photographer. She died in Los Angeles, California in 1949, a month before her ninetieth birthday.
On May 19, 1905 The Pocatello Tribune reported, "Wrensted Building Moved Out. The photographic gallery of Miss Wrensted is in the street today. It is being moved off the lots where a big new building is going up." The new structure cost $8,000.
There is a reciprocal relationship between a small community and its town photographer. Communities need pictures to document their progress, both economic and cultural: and the photographer's existence depends on the satisfaction of the clientele.
The volunteers arrived at the train station in the morning, and after a "bounteous breakfast" at the pavilion, the "formal ceremonies" began with a procession. The parade passed through a tented arch at the intersection of Cleveland and Center streets. This view is of Cleveland Avenue.
Benedicte Wrensted's camera recorded the growth of Pocatello at the turn of the century. Her photos provide glimpses of the changes, as one-story wood buildings gave way to three story brick and stone structures, wooden sidewalks began to line dirt streets, large Victorian houses were built, and telegraph and telephone wires crisscrossed the sky.
Mrs. Derr and Mrs. Cook were sisters. Mrs. Derr wrote E. O. Leonard on January 13, 1901:
Miss Wrensted called here after you were gone, said she could have taken our picture in the front room and would have come if she had thought of it. Told her we would wait until you came home.
Though primarily a studio portrait photographer, Wrensted also took pictures of community events. Every individual in a group photo was a potential customer.
The school was built in 1892, the same year Ella Wrensted (front row, 6th from left) was born. The building caught fire in December of 1914. It was rebuilt and became the present Pocatello High School.
Women Photographers/Ella's Dress
Portrait photography was an acceptable profession for nineteenth century women. It was regarded as tedious, painstaking work, suited to a woman's temperament. For all photographers, male as well as female, the technique and skills were mainly self-taught or were acquired under the brief tutelage of other photographers. Women could carry out their photography careers within the confines of their studios, which were often in their homes. This created an aura of domesticity that lent respectability to the profession.
Because it was a relatively new field, photography was not hampered by cultural and social traditions of long apprenticeships and male domination, as was true in other art related fields. (The Academy of Art in Copenhagen, Denmark, for example, was closed to female artists until 1888.) In Europe and America both, female photographers flourished.
Ella Wrensted was born December 27, 1892. Benedicte taught her photography and Ella began taking pictures on her own as early as age 12 (1904). Thus she became the third generation of women photographers in her family.
Ella worked as an apprentice for Wrensted while she was in high school. In 1913, at the age of 21, she moved with her aunt and her grandmother to California, where she was employed in camera shops. She returned to Pocatello and is listed in the town's 1917 business directory as an assistant to Mrs. W. E. (Mary H. Cole) Garvey, Benedicte Wrensted's successor.
In 1922, Ella moved to Casper, Wyoming, where she bought a photography studio of her own. She worked there until 1924, when, at the age of 32, she married Harry J. Boone and moved back to California. She died June 6, 1986, at the age of 94, after running a photography studio in Bellflower, California for many years.
Of the six visible Native American photographs ringing the bottom of Ella's skirt, four have been identified. See the following four photographs.