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Duke Ellington playing baseball in segregated hotel parking lot.
The first and only woman photographer for LOOK magazine, Charlotte Brooks, is the focus of a new exhibition at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College opening Sept. 28, 2016. The show features eight photo essays from the magazine, from between 1951and 1971, illustrating post-war America. This is the first retrospective of her work. Duke Ellington and his band playing baseball in the parking lot of a segregated hotel while touring in Florida, 1955. Published in: "Duke Ellington: A Living Legend Swings On" LOOK 21: 17 (Aug. 20, 1957)Charlotte Brooks—courtesy of the LOOK Magazine Photograph Collection, Prints/Library of Congress
Duke Ellington playing baseball in segregated hotel parking lot.
Dr. Connie M. Guion administering a vitamin shot.
Joan Elizabeth Murray at work on the television show Candid Camera.
Joan Elizabeth Murray hailing at cab in Manhattan.
Single mother Vi Erker watching tv with her son.
Capuchin at the Boston chapter of the Simian Society of America.
Squirrel monkey at the Boston chapter of the Simian Society of America.
Jack Baker and Michael McConnell shaving together at home.
Ted and Sally Oldham playing with their daughter.
Afro-Cuban singer La Lupe in a recording studio in New York.
The first and only woman photographer for LOOK magazine, Charlotte Brooks, is the focus of a new exhibition at the Davis
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Charlotte Brooks—courtesy of the LOOK Magazine Photograph Co
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How Look Magazine's Only Female Staff Photographer Captured a Changing World

When Charlotte Brooks was first hired by Look Magazine in 1951, she got the kinds of assignments one might expect for a woman in a male-dominated industry at the time: fashion, promotions, assorted fluff. "Her tasks included the 'sociable cheese' series—photographing supermarket displays when a cheese manufacturing company was a major Look advertiser," notes her Library of Congress bio.

Over the next two decades she spent as the magazine's only female full-time staff photographer, however, Brooks managed to make her way from the grocery aisle to the center of a tumultuous time in American life. As the relative stability of the 1950s gave way to the upheaval of the 1960s, Brooks chronicled the transformation from the inside. Among her subjects were Duke Ellington on tour through the segregated south; a young, working, single mother at a time when few were visible; and the first gay couple to marry legally in the U.S.

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Brooks' career is the subject of a new exhibit at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, opening Wednesday. Charlotte Brooks at LOOK: 1951–1971 will be on view through Dec. 18.

“Within the male-dominated world of photojournalism and commercial photography during the postwar period in the U.S., Brooks was a pioneer,” Ileana Selejan, a Curatorial Fellow in Photography at the Davis, said in a statement about the show.

How did she get there? When profiled in 1945 by Popular Photography, Brooks was dubbed "Girl on Assignment." The article explained that she had always been interested in the medium and honed her skills by working with such photographic luminaries as Gjon Mili before taking a job with the New York Times. She then worked freelance before joining Look's team. Brooks continued to work at Look—the main competitor of LIFE—until the magazine folded in 1971. She died in 2014.

What set her work apart was a clear grasp of what made people tick.

"Learn to anticipate human behavior," Brooks told Popular Photography, "so that when the moment arrives for the picture you can focus, compose, adjust and shoot in a split second."

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