Consuelo Kanaga, one of the pioneers of modern American photography, began her career as a photojournalist in 1915 in San Francisco. In the 1920s, Alfred Stieglitz inspired her to develop a more aesthetic approach, and a trip to Europe in 1928 awakened her lifelong preoccupation with European modernist painting and the ways in which that work was influenced by the sculpture of Africa. Kanaga successfully combined a Pictorialist aesthetic with a realist strategy, producing handsomely composed and carefully printed images. She was one of few white American photographers in the 1930s to make artistic portraits of African Americans.
In Frances with a Flower, the focus is so sharp that the slightly rough texture of the woman’s skin, shiny with perspiration at the hairline, seems palpable. The forehead, nose, and cheeks, highlighted by flash, contrast with the deep-set eyes lost in shadow, thus producing a sculptural dimension that turns the photograph into hills and valleys of light. The stark white blossom pressed to the woman’s nose emphasizes the sensuality of her face.