Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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David Douglas Duncan

The extensive archive of David Douglas Duncan is an ongoing acquisition, and since the first shipment of materials arrived at the Harry Ransom Center in 1995, eleven additional accessions have been received.

A comprehensive finding aid for these accessions can be found online and in hardcopy form at the Center.

Researchers seeking additional information on the collection may wish to contact:

Linda Briscoe Myers, Associate Curator of Photography
Harry Ransom Center
The University of Texas at Austin
P.O. Box 7219
Austin, TX 78713-7219
Phone: (512) 471-6281
Fax: (512) 232-2152
Email: briscoe@utexas.edu


In 2009, David Coleman, the Ransom Center's Curator of Photography, asked Mr. Duncan to reflect upon how his archive came to Austin, Texas. Below is his letter:

2 March 2009

Dear David   –

I spent years trying to find a future home for my complete archive...offered as a gift. Stories of which I was so proud. My early National Geographic world-exclusive deepsea fishing adventures off South America; LIFE's Korean and Vietnam war photo-essays. Photographs of the Kremlin treasures, unrecorded by anyone and shot only after the eye-to-eye okay from a very very tough character who ran the Soviet Union during the coldest of those freezing Cold War years—Nikita Khruschev himself. And my multi-thousand negative and Kodachrome hoard of closeups revealing the private world and stacks of unknown paintings bracketing the entire career of "the artist of the century": Picasso. And much more.

Six thousand pounds...three tons! Prints and negatives; book production files; first editions of the books themselves. Albums of my letters home saved by my father (his legacy to me), my custombuilt prismatic camera and my custombuilt Leica with which I could silently work beside Picasso, seemingly unnoticed for almost seventeen years of our friendship. And that other Leica CIII, fitted with a then-unknown (outside Japan) Nikon lens which I used during the Korean War—and because I was shooting for LIFE launched the 1950 camera revolution.

Nothing but courteous-to-indifferent responses came back from any art museum or photography institution...or from those universities where I was still perhaps remembered and even sometimes honored. Dead-end streets!

Then, about ten years ago, it happened! Stanley Marcus—of Dallas Neiman-Marcus fame—America's premier merchant king of affordable-to-outrageous Christmas gifts and one of the New World's Old World Renaissance men who dealt both in dreams and reality, walked into our home on the south coast of France. Looked around the house and wondered "What do you plan to do...someday?" He listened quietly while I unloaded the saga of my search. He asked whether he might use our phone for a short call Stateside—and called Texas. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at Austin...explaining to somebody that he had a little suggestion. Described the packrat's hoard I'd just been showing him. Hung up.

Two weeks later, Dr. Thomas F. Staley, Director of the Ransom Center, world authority on the works of James Joyce, arrived in our village. Looked at my lifelong matrix of work, listened to some of my memories...before he asked whether he might phone Stateside. We then went to a nearby village for lunch—after which he returned to Nice airport to catch his plane home.

Two weeks later, Roy Flukinger, then Photography Curator, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, phoned hello from Nice airport, ambled across our front steps from a taxi. Nodded hello. Looked around the house. Recognized shot after shot among my most obscure photo-stories (some made before he was born)...and we went to the village for dinner—where a taxi had been ordered to pick him up, apparently thinking it a burden for us to drive those twenty-five miles back to Nice. He flew back to Austin the next morning.

My gift-offer archive had found its home...I had never been in Austin in my life.

And, today, Stanley Marcus—Someplace Special—must hear my thanks.

Saludos!

David       ddd