Joan Rosenfels Eggan (1906–1999) was born in 1906 to Russian Jewish immigrants. She received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1934, and continued her education at the Smith School for Social Work, where she studied with the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. Eggan practiced psychotherapy for over twenty-five years, as a therapist with the students of the Laboratory Schools of the University of Chicago, and as a psychological consultant to the school’s administrators and pediatricians. It was her background in psychotherapy which led Eggan to begin studying photography in the 1960s, believing that it would allow her to learn more about her patients.
Eggan first became well-known in anthropological circles for her remarkable portraits of anthropologists. After her marriage in 1969 to noted anthropologist and University of Chicago professor Fred Eggan, the range of subjects in her photography increased greatly. Eggan accompanied her husband on several of his research trips to the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and England. Eggan documented these trips through photography, focusing on capturing images of local people and their everyday lives. Her photography was informed by her training as a psychotherapist: Eggan’s portraits often depict relationships between people, or focus on people going about their daily routines. Women and children were frequent subjects in her work.
The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center