Philanthropy at the Ransom Center: Nancy Inman Curator of Photography
"Truly a gift to future generations." -Nancy Inman
During a recent visit to the Harry Ransom Center, Nancy Inman took the opportunity to view a favorite image of the Central Asian steppes as captured by photojournalist Eve Arnold, "I have traveled to the very steppes where this photograph was taken," Inman said, "and Arnold captures so effectively the sense of the landscape and its people."
The Ransom Center has long been recognized for its literary collections, but it is also home to one of the finest photography collections in the world, one that includes the world's first photograph by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. This historic collection is enhanced by an active acquisitions program that has added major collections by photojournalist David Douglas Duncan and photographer Arnold Newman, among others.
Like the work of Eve Arnold, whose subjects ranged from veil-clad women in Afghanistan to Marilyn Monroe on a Hollywood set, the strength of the Ransom Center's collections, Inman believes, lies in its diversity and range.
"From the Gernsheim collection's first photograph to incredible images from the Russian photographs of the taking of Berlin, the superior work of David Douglas Duncan documenting the Korean War to the work of many fine art photographers too numerous to mention, they all demonstrate the breadth of the collections," said Inman, who has served on the Ransom Center's Advisory Council since 1997.
A priority of the current capital campaign, Culture Unbound: An investment in Discovery, is to seek the resources necessary to elevate the photography programs and services to a level commensurate with the quality of its collection. Thanks to the generosity of Admiral Bobby and Nancy Inman, their sons, Tom and Bill, and Advisory Council member Marlene Meyerson, the Center has taken a leap forward with the establishment of the Nancy Inman Curator of Photography Endowment.
Marlene Meyerson of Tesuque, New Mexico, concurs with Inman's assessment: "The Ransom Center is recognized throughout the photography world as having one of the great collections," she said. "It should continue to collect and safeguard this premier collection."
Nancy Inman has traveled around the world but calls Austin home. Her husband, Admiral Bobby Inman, is acting dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.
We posed several questions to Nancy Inman regarding her family's recent gift and her interest in photography.
Ransom Edition: What is your favorite photograph in the collection?
Inman: That is a difficult question to answer as the Ransom Center holds so many stunning images. Perhaps it is David Douglas Duncan's photograph of the exhausted young soldier whose eyes reflect all the horror that he has seen, or Eve Arnold's image of a Mongolian woman training a horse. I could go on for pages.
Ransom Edition: Why did you make this particular gift?
Inman: Our family made the gift because we believe this collection is a treasure. My wish is that the photography department will let the world know of these amazing photographic holdings. To our family it was indeed important, for we believe that such an investment is truly a gift to future generations.
Ransom Edition: As a photographer, what have you learned from studying the work of others? What photographers have inspired you?
Inman: My background is in the history of art and in studio art. I did not take up photography until we moved to Austin. I learned how the photographer's eye is indeed that of an artist. You further asked what photographers inspired me—Stieglitz, Kertesz, Avedon, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, David Douglas Duncan—and so many more. A fine photograph is, to me, as enjoyable as a superb painting.