Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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First photograph. Click to enlarge.

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, View from the Window at Le Gras, heliograph, 1826 or 1827. Reproduction produced in collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute, 2002.


Note: Further information about the bolded names below may be found by using the Photography Collections Database or by contacting a Photography department staff member


When Harry Ransom purchased the Gernsheim Collection in 1963, he acquired what was then the largest privately held historical photographic archive in the country, and the Ransom Center's Photography Collection was born. Since then, the strength of the Photography Collection has been in its documentation of the history and evolution of the medium. Accordingly, the Center maintains photography holdings in fine arts, contemporary art, photojournalism, documentary photography, the history of photography, technology and apparatus, regional photography, and literature. These holdings amount to over five million prints and negatives, supplemented by manuscripts, archives, and memorabilia of significant photographers of the past two centuries. Scholars will also find a study collection of over four hundred pieces of original photographic apparatus, as well as an extensive library of books and journals concerned with photography and its history.

The variety of scholarly approaches that may be implemented within the Center's collections range from the examination of the works of a particular photographer to a study of the intellectual and physical factors that shaped the development and influence of the medium; from historical questions of international significance to those of regional importance; as well as the appreciation, analysis, or interpretation of specific works, movements, or processes.

The History of Photography

Shortly after World War II, Helmut Gernsheim (1913-1995) and his wife Alison Gernsheim (1911-1969) began to assemble their collection of historical materials. Their most important discovery occurred in the early 1950s. In a trunk that had been misplaced for many years, the Gernsheims found Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's (1765-1833) View from the Window at Le Gras, dating from 1826 or 1827. Along with additional manuscript material and items relating to Niépce's early experiments, the Gernsheim Collection contains outstanding examples of the earliest attempts at making photographic impressions, as well as much of the finest photography from the Victorian era to the twentieth century, as represented by the work of over twelve hundred photographers.

Supplementing the collection is a significant library of thirty-five thousand books and journals on the theory, technique, art, and history of photography. These volumes—beginning with early sixteenth-century English, German, and French treatises on optics and light-sensitive chemistry—form the foundation for modern photographic literature and many contain Gernsheim's original notes. Of the nineteenth-century volumes, more than five hundred are illustrated with original photographs. Among the twentieth-century volumes are all of the major books of study and modern cornerstones of photographic works as well as current periodicals and contemporary publications.

Pioneers, Experimentation & Innovation

The earliest photographic efforts of the 1830s and the 1840s are represented by the experiments of Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), John Spiller (1833-1921), Sir John Herschel (1792-1871). and Robert Hunt (1807-1887) with salts of silver and other materials made chemically sensitive to the effects of light. William Henry Fox Talbot's (1800-1877) invention of salted paper prints, made from original paper negatives (calotypes), made possible the work of such early artists as Roger Fenton (1819-1869), and the team of David Octavius Hill (1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (1821-1848). Daguerreotypes produced by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851), Joseph-Philbert Girault de Prangey (1804-1892), Richard Beard (1802-1885). and Antoine Claudet (1797-1867). among others, display the direct process on metal, as it was used to produce unique images. In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer (1813-1857) invented the wet collodion process, thereby effecting a rapid growth in professional, commercial, and amateur photographic practices.

Photography as Fine Art

From the start, these technical successes created a critical dimension of photography that continues to interest and challenge scholars: the manipulation of the process to attain a specific artistic end versus the implied integrity of the unaltered photograph. The work of proponents of each side of the controversy is well represented in the Center's collections. The interests of a number of early artists are represented by the works of Nadar (Gaspard Felix Tournachon, 1820-1910), Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles L. Dodgson, 1832-1898), O. G. Rejlander (1813-1875), Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901), Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936), and Eugène Atget (1857-1927). Contemporaneously, a number of photographers—including Charles Clifford (1819-1863), Carlo Ponti, Felice (1825-1903) and Antoine Beato (fl. 1850s-1880s), Thomas Annan (1829-1887), Paul Martin (1864-1944). and George Washington Wilson (1823-1893)—strove to illustrate the important documentary, topographical, aesthetic, and commercial aspects of the medium.

By the late nineteenth century, photography was beginning to be recognized as an art form, and photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966), J. Craig Annan (1864-1946), Edward Steichen (1879-1973), and Paul Strand (1890-1976) combined traditional photographic techniques with those derived from the graphic arts. Their conviction that photography is an expressive and powerful art that does not require the imitation of any other art form would come to dominate image making throughout the twentieth century. The later masterworks of such artists as Edward Weston (1886-1958), Ansel Adams (1902-1984), Bill Brandt (19041983), Walker Evans (1903-1975), Raymond Moore (1920-1987), and Manuel Alvarez Bravo (1902-2002) are also present in the Gernsheim Collection.

To reflect this evolution of photography into a major art form, the Center continues to collect works by major contemporary artists, both in America and selectively from around the world. Among these hundreds of modern masters are included one or more works by Joel Meyerowitz (b. 1938), Harold E. "Doc" Edgerton (1903-1990), Carl Chiarenza (b. 1935), Scott Hyde (b. 1926), David Levinthal (b. 1949), Lauren Piperno (b. 1949), and Kristin Capp (b. 1964).

The Center also adds work by significant contemporary regional artists from Texas, the South and the Southwest. Major individual works or series have been amassed from such diverse artists as Mary Lee Edwards (1942-2000), Frank Armstrong (b. 1935), Keith Carter (b. 1948), O. Rufus Lovett (b. 1952), Ave Bonar (b. 1948), April Rapier (b. 1953), Kate Breakey (b. 1957), Robert Langham (b. 1952), Michael Nye (b. 1948), and James H. Evans (b. 1954), among many others.

Equipment & Apparatus

The two hundred examples of early photographic equipment in the Gernsheim Collection have been supplemented in recent decades by the addition of fine pieces of twentieth-century photographic apparatus from collectors and donors. The Ransom Center's complete study collection of photographic equipment and apparatus numbers over four hundred rare and memorable pieces.

Among the holdings are such early items as a seventeenth-century "ox-eye" lens, used by the artist to obtain a variety of views in a darkened room: several camera obscuras and camera lucidas; and a variety of stereo cameras and viewers. A large number of early commercial cameras includes the first Kodak roll film camera (1888); the "Royal Mail" postage stamp camera (ca. 1879); and whole generations of cameras developed by such major firms as Eastman Kodak Co., Agfa-Gavert, and Folmer-Graflex. Also in the collection is a wide range of instruments for analyzing movement and demonstrating the persistence of vision—precursors to the motion picture camera. Forerunners of cinematographic filming and projection dating from the earliest days of commercial cinematography are also present. Finally, among early color cameras are a complete range of Frederick Eugene Ives's (1856-1937) apparatuses for viewing and projecting photographs in color.

Photojournalism & Documentary Photography

One of the unique qualities of the photograph is its ability to render a record of historic individuals and events. Among the earliest examples of photojournalism and documentary photography housed at the Ransom Center are the complete photographic portfolios of Roger Fenton's (1819-1869) images from the Crimean War of 1855, and Philip Henry Delamotte's (1820-1889) interpretive record of the rebuilding of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham in 1853-54. Among individual photographs and photographically-illustrated books is the work of a number of pioneers in photojournalism and documentary photography, such as John Thomson (1837-1921), Jacob Riis (1849-1914), Lewis Hine (1874-1940), Thomas Annan (1829-1887), and Paul Martin (1864-1944).

These works are further supplemented by a large number of twentieth-century news and documentary photographs, as well as the complete negative and print morgue of one of the major American newspapers of the era, The New York Journal-American, ranging from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Photographers' Archives

The Ransom Center holds sizable individual collections of the works of several nineteenth- and twentieth-century photographers. The papers, photographs, and apparatuses of optician J. B. Dancer (1812-1887), the father of microphotography and a pioneer in stereo photography, chronicle Dancer's early recognition of the scientific and commercial possibilities of the medium. Collected with photographic records of family life, Dancer's experiments exemplify the collaboration between art and technology present in photography's earliest decades.

The original prints, negatives, and glass slides of James H. "Jimmy" Hare (1856-1946), an early press photographer, cover seven wars as well as major news events such as earthquakes, disasters, and early aviation efforts.

The collection of Jno P. Trlica (1882-1978) focuses upon the rural, culturally rich community of Granger, Texas. As the town's sole commercial photographer, Trlica recorded the festivals, religious ceremonies, conventions, and agricultural activities reflecting a half-century of life in the region. A portrait photographer as well, Trlica's archive chronicles the complex workings of an early twentieth-century commercial studio.

More than one million images comprise the unique collection of E. O. Goldbeck (1892-1986). Included are Cirkut panoramic views of entire divisions of military personnel and famous sights around the world, as well as any number of social and historic groups, and street scenes of America, especially San Antonio, Texas, Goldbeck's hometown.

The photographs of W. D. Smithers (1895-1981) record life in the Trans-Pecos area of Texas and northern Mexico for most of the twentieth century, including the impact and change of aviation, ranching, and the military upon this last frontier.

Images created by Russell Lee (1903-1986) range from his now classic photographs made for the Farm Security Administration and the subsequent U.S. Coal Industry Survey, on through works from his industrial career to personal documentary projects. Lee, who established the first photography program in the The University of Texas Department of Art, donated over eight hundred of his masterworks from his personal collection.

Currently numbering about twenty-two hundred photographs, the master print collection of Fritz Henle (1909-1996) represents a lifetime of image making by this German-born photographer. One of the major figures in twentieth-century photography, Henle spent over sixty years as a freelance artistic and commercial photographer, traveling around the world to capture and interpret imagery of people engaged in everyday activities. Among those figures who have posed for Henle, or who were caught in candid moments, are some of this past century's most significant artists, politicians, and celebrities.

The image and manuscript archive of Eliot Elisofon (1911-1973) contains materials from all aspects of his nearly forty-year career. This New York-born Life photographer was famous for his pioneering work in color photography, Third World documentation, and personality/celebrity photojournalism.

Eve Arnold (b. 1913) is represented by forty-two photographic prints, many of which depict 1950s movie stars.

The complete, exhaustive archive of American photojournalist and author David Douglas Duncan (b. 1916) includes his images of WWII, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, all his Life stories (1946-56), and the photographs and production material for all of Duncan's nearly two dozen books. In addition, while the collection contains some art works by the photographer's close friend, Pablo Picasso, it most notably includes the complete documentary record that Duncan produced of the final eighteen years of the artist's life.

The Center acquired the archive of Arnold Newman (1918-2006), whose "environmental portraits" included Lyndon Baines Johnson, Pablo Picasso and Truman Capote. The archive spans from the late 1930s to the 21st century and contains all of Newman's negatives, slides and color transparencies, all of his original contact sheets and more than 2,000 prints, including examples of color and collage work. The archive also includes Newman's original sittings books, correspondence and business files, early sketchbooks, photographic albums and some of the many awards he received during his lifetime.

The sixty-seven prints that comprised the book and exhibition "El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers" in a collection called Inside El Salvador reside at the Center. Susan Meiselas and Harry Mattison gathered these images taken by 30 international photojournalists during the intensely brutal period of conflict in that country between 1979 and 1983. Donna De Cesare documented the fallout from this conflict in El Salvador and the immigrant community in Los Angeles in 30 prints acquired by the Center.

The Ransom Center holds the Magnum Photos Collection, containing approximately 200,000 press prints from the Magnum Photos Agency's New York print library dating from the 1930s to 2004.

The Center acquired the archive of Anne Noggle (1922-2005), whose work addressed identity, self and aging. The archive includes photographs (work prints and exhibition prints), negatives, correspondence, and selections from her library.

Among other materials in the Photography Collection are Sir Cecil Beaton's (1904-1980) prints, ranging from documentary images through studio portraits of English theater and literary figures; Christina Broom's (1863-1939) news photographs of Edwardian England; the mammoth albumen prints of Robert MacPherson (ca. 1815-1872) of Roman ruins and Italian urban and architectural views (late 1850s-early 1860s); the major artistic works and combination printing of Henry Peach Robinson (18301901); and the large and diverse volume of nineteenth-century commercial work by such photographers as James Valentine (1815-1880) and George Washington Wilson (1823-1893), which includes lantern slides, portraits, and commercial prints of subjects from around the world. The Ransom Center holds the Stanley Burns tintype collection, comprised of more than 130 unusually large, hand-colored, American tintypes in period frames.

The Literary Collection

The acquisition of literary correspondence and authors' papers often has yielded photographs as well: family snapshots, commercial imagery, photo albums, and occasionally even some photographs acquired by the author for the sake of the photograph itself. Sometimes these photographs illuminate a personality or a literary collection; sometimes they are taken by well-known photographers; and sometimes the photographs are simply beautiful objects in and of themselves. In rare instances, photographs found in the literary collection can be all three at once, as when Robinson Jeffers's neighbor, the photographer Edward Weston, rendered a portrait of the poet that became part of the Jeffers's family collection.

In many instances, these holdings include photographs made by the literary figures themselves, with images created by Alfred A. Knopf (1892-1984), George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), and Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) being significant examples. Most often, however, the literary collection of photographs shows the sheer democracy of photography—the availability of the medium to virtually all alike and its ubiquitous use as family and personal record, as fine portraiture, and as documentation of people, places, and events.

The Carlton Lake Collection

A particularly rich source of such "literary photography" is the Carlton Lake Photographic Collection, which grew naturally out of Lake's hunt for manuscripts and archives of writers, artists, and musicians of the Modernist period, especially in France. Almost everyone likes to take pictures—even if some don't especially care to be photographic subjects—and the Modernists were no exception in their desire to have visual mementos of their friends and milieu. So Lake's acquisition of correspondences and papers would often yield an added bonus: snapshots and photographs tucked away in the folds of letters or at the back of a file. Complete or nearly complete archives, such as those of Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), Valentine Hugo (1887-1968), or Henri-Pierre Roché (1879-1959), include an abundance of photographs in formats varying from negatives to snapshots to cabinet photographs to the more formal portrait sitting. Some photographs were also bought by Lake because they complemented a literary collection or had been taken by a well-known photographer of the period, or simply because they were stunning art works in their own right.