Guide to the Max Belcher Photography Collection, 1969-1998
Materials in this collection, 1969-1998, have been organized into two series, Printed Materials and Photography. The Printed Materials Series is limited to a half-dozen documents related to Belcher's work as a photographer. The Photography Series includes 1,027 contact sheets (860 black-and-white, 167 color), 381 photographs (239 black-and-white, 142 color), and 5 color fine prints spanning nearly three decades of Belcher's professional work as a photographer. This series is divided into 11 project-based subseries, which have been arranged chronologically by the start date of each project. Descriptions of each subseries may be found below. Within each subseries, black-and-white work precedes color work, and contact sheets precede photographs. Individual items in the photography series bear specific technical and identifying information, usually marked by Belcher on the backs of contact sheets and photographs.
- Max Belcher Photography Collection, 1969-1998
- Belcher, Max
- 10 Linear Feet, 1425 Items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
- For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
All materials in the collection are available for study and research in the Library, except those specifically designated as access-restricted. At present, the only access-restricted materials are the five exhibition quality, fine prints from the project "American People: Portraits of the Philadelphia Community in the Dominican Republic." Patrons may view these images rendered as exhibition images. If, upon viewing these exhibition images, a patron identifies a specific need to view the corresponding fine prints (e.g., for consideration for an exhibition), Library staff can permit the patron to view the fine prints.
All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
All items in the collection are open to researchers except five exhibition quality, fine prints from the project, "American People: Portraits from the Philadelphia Community in the Dominican Republic." Photocopies of each of these prints have been placed with the color photographs in the subseries for study by Library patrons.
Publishing requests should be directed to Mr. Belcher, who retains the copyright on all materials in this collection. Stipulations regarding the exhibition and reproduction of materials in the photography series vary according to the type of image in question, and are summarized below. The designation of specific images as professional, exhibition, study, reading-room-only or undesignated images may be determined by consulting Mr. Belcher's notes on individual photos and contact sheets.
Professional and Exhibition Images:
Exhibition: Request permission from Mr. Belcher.
Reproduction: The Library may make viewing copies, photocopies or slides for the purposes of research, teaching, private study or scholarly illustration.
Exhibition: May be used in exhibitions only within the Library itself, and only when appropriate language is used to describe the place of these study images within Mr. Belcher'soeuvre.
Reproduction: The Library may make viewing copies, photocopies or slides for the purposes of research, teaching, private study or scholarly illustration.
Reading-Room-Only and Undesignated Images:
Exhibition: These images may not be exhibited within or beyond the Library at any time whatsoever.
Reproduction: Pen and ink renditions of images so marked are the only allowable form of reproduction. Reading-room-only and undesignated images may not be reproduced in any photographic, electronic or digital form, or by other means for any purpose whatsoever.
Specific images on contact sheets have been identified as professional, study, or reading-room-only images, or remain undesignated. Stipulations on exhibition and reproduction of individual contact sheet images are dependent on the specific designation of the images in question.
Exhibition Quality, Fine Prints:
Exhibition: These prints may be displayed within or beyond the Library, at the Library's discretion.
Reproduction: The fine prints in this collection are restricted from general research use and thus are not to be reproduced. However, these images are duplicated in the collection as exhibition images, which may be reproduced according to the stipulations above. Requests for fine prints not in the Library's possession for use in exhibition, as well as requests for reproductions of fine prints for publication, should be directed to Mr. Belcher.
This series includes Belcher's curriculum vitae, a summary of his American People project in the Dominican Republic, an exhibition brochure and three news articles related to his photography. Additional exhibit literature catalogued separately in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library includes A Land and Life Remembered: Americo-Liberian Folk Architecture, House and Home: Spirits of the South, and Claiming Place: Biracial American People.
The photography in this collection represents Belcher's work from his first forays into photography in New York City between 1969 and 1971, up to his most recent projects in Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and the United States. This series is organized by project subseries, which are arranged chronologically by the beginning date of each project. Within each subseries, black-and-white work precedes color work, and contact sheets precede photographs. Subseries descriptions describing collection holdings for each project follow the restrictions note below. For information about specific contact sheets and photos, researchers are advised to consult Belcher's own notes on his work, usually found on the back of individual contact sheets or photographs.
This subseries includes 104 contact sheets (97 black-and-white, 7 color) from Belcher's photographic work during 1969-1971 in and around New York City. Many shots are from Belcher's days as a student at the New School for Social Research and as a production assistant at NBC News in New York. The work includes portraits, landscapes, still lifes, cityscapes, architecture and a variety of experimental images.
This subseries explores the relationships between migration, identity and history in the Americo-Liberian experience. Belcher's interest in this topic derived from his upbringing as a Philadelphia-born American who was raised in Liberia for ten years beginning in 1954. The earliest work in this series, completed between 1971and 1973, represents some of Belcher's first professional work as a photographer. The subseries includes additional fieldwork done in the years 1977-78 and 1982-83, featuring Americo-Liberian architecture and portraiture of indigenous Liberians and Americo-Liberians. The exhibit catalog, A Land and Life Remembered: Americo-Liberian Folk Architecture, available in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, provides more information about this project. His subsequent project on Southern Architecture (below) took Belcher back to the origins of Americo-Liberian architecture in the vernacular architecture of the American South. These examples of cultural memory and historical continuity are discussed in bothA Land and Life Remembered and House and Home: Spirits of the South, also held by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Belcher returned to the themes of migration, identity and history in his later work in Samaná, Dominican Republic (below). The subseries includes 210 black-and-white contact sheets, 89 black-and-white photos, 22 color contact sheets and 10 color photos.
The 165 contact sheets and 21 photos, all black-and-white, in this subseries include experimental shots documenting Belcher's early and continuing work with various grades and makes of film, paper and photographic equipment. The images document a range of Belcher's photographic improvisations and studies, as well as attempts at capturing various textures, scapes, and light; and at composing with different angles and in varied photographic settings. Thus, the subseries documents the development of Belcher's photographic signature and style. The images include portraiture, architecture, landscapes and cityscapes, and were shot in Massachusetts, Florida and Michigan.
The materials in this subseries include extensive portraiture work completed during three public schools residencies in the environs of Boston, Mass.
The Massachusetts Council on the Arts sponsored Belcher's work as artist-in-residence, 1979-1980 and 1980-1981, at the Washington Community School in Lynn, MA. The work from this residency consists primarily of portraiture of elementary- and upper-school students, with a handful of shots of architecture, landscapes and other subject matter. The subseries includes 80 black-and-white contact sheets, 9 black-and-white photos and 1 color contact shee
In 1984, Belcher received support for his work on the Somerville Media Action Project (SMAP), in Somerville, Mass., through a one-month artist-in-residence program sponsored by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. These selections from his SMAP work feature portraits of local teenagers, as well as a variety of other cityscape images. This subseries contains 18 contact sheets and 9 photos, all black-and-white
Sponsored by the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities and by the National Endowment for the Arts, Belcher was artist-in-residence, 1984-1986, at Jamaica Plain High School in Jamaica Plain, Mass.. The 73 black-and-white contact sheets, 12 black-and-white photos, and 3 color contact sheets consist overwhelmingly of portraiture of teenagers, with a few contact sheet images of architecture and landscapes.
This subseries includes street work, portraiture, architecture, and town and landscapes made during Belcher's 1983 study in and around Israel. It contains 86 contact sheets and 12 photos, all black-and-white.
This subseries consists of a range of street work, architecture, and town and landscapes shot in New Orleans, La., West Palm Beach, Fla., and several locations in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. It includes 14 black-and-white contact sheets, 12 black-and-white photos, 8 color contact sheets, and 7 color photos.
The Southern architecture photographs in this subseries were made to complement Belcher's project on Americo-Liberian architecture (above). They include images of churches, grave markers, houses, plantations and other 19th and 20th century architecture. The shots were taken in Lowndes County, Ga.; Bourbon, Clark, Fayette, Logan and Woodford Counties, Ky.; Alamance, Bertie, Chowan, Gates, Northampton, and Perquimans Counties, N.C.; Williamsburg and York Counties, S.C.; and Isle of Wight and Southampton Counties, Va.. The subseries contains 29 black-and-white contact sheets, 59 black-and-white photos, and 1 color photo. The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library also holds a copy of the exhibit catalogs, House and Home: Spirits of the South and A Land and Life Remembered, which feature work from this project.
This subseries includes images of vernacular architecture in New Brunswick and Quebec, Canada. These shots were taken during two trips in June and August 1990, supported by a Summer Research Grant from the Kenan Charitable Trust at Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., where Belcher taught. The subseries consists of 7 black-and-white contact sheets, 1 black-and-white photo, 18 color contact sheets, and 6 color photos.
Returning to the major themes of Belcher's earlier work in Liberia (above), this subseries explores the relationships between migration, identity and history by documenting African-American emigration to and life in Samaná, Dominican Republic. Specifically, the photographs portray the descendants of U.S. slave- and free-born blacks who emigrated from Philadelphia to Samaná in 1824and 1825as part of a migration organized by the Haitian Emigration Society. For a fuller description of this project, see Belcher's one-page description of his work in Samaná, included in the printed materials series. The subseries includes 51 black-and-white contact sheets, 4 black-and-white photos, 96 color contact sheets, 98 color photos, and 5 exhibition-quality, fine color prints. Restrictions: This subseries contains five exhibition-quality, fine prints that are access-restricted. Photocopies of each of these prints have been placed with the color photographs in the subseries. If, upon viewing these images, a patron identifies a specific need to view the corresponding fine prints (e.g., for consideration for an exhibition), Library staff can permit the patron to view the fine prints.
RESTRICTED: Photocopies of these prints are located at the beginning of Box 41 for viewing by researchers.
This subseries consists of images composed during Belcher's field work in Vietnam during January, 1994. The 30 contact sheets and 11 photos, all black-and-white, include architecture and portraiture, primarily of female veterans of the Northern Vietnamese Army who served during the period of conflict with France and the United States.
The photographs in this subseries explore biracial and multiracial identity among young American adults born in the 1960s. This work was exhibited as part of a larger project on racial identity undertaken in conjunction with social anthropologist Marion Kilson and professor of art Theresa Monaco, and supported by grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Learning Society Inc., Salem State College and Emmanuel College. The subseries includes 12 contact sheets and 20 photos, all color. For more on this project, researchers are encouraged to consult the exhibit brochure, Claiming Place: Biracial American People, available in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
The addition (2008-0304) includes six matted prints that appear to be from Belcher's Americo-Liberian series, taken in the mid-1970s.
Max Belcher was born in 1944 in Philadelphia. Ten years later, his father, an African American raised in North Carolina, and his mother, a Lithuanian/Polish Jew, emigrated with their son to Liberia. As a teen, Belcher began working in broadcasting, taking a position as a staff announcer for the Liberian Broadcasting Corporation. His experiences in Africa convinced him of the potential for low-cost instructional films to improve the lives of local people by helping to spread practical information on such topics as agriculture and health. Thus, in 1964 he returned to the United States to pursue a college education and acquire filmmaking skills.
Belcher's plans were quickly thwarted by the escalation of the Vietnam War. Feeling that the draft was inevitable, Belcher enlisted in the U.S. Marines, serving as a military broadcasting specialist in the U.S., South Vietnam, and at Armed Forces Radio and Television Service in Okinawa. After his tour of duty he settled in New York City, where he took a full-time job as a production assistant at NBC News and enrolled in college. He began his studies at Columbia University in 1968 but quickly transferred to the New School for Social Research, where a filmmaking instructor encouraged him to grow accustomed to seeing the world through the lens of a still camera. That training, initially intended to develop his skills as a filmmaker, introduced Belcher to the expressive potential of photography. Continuing his liberal arts studies at the New School, he also enrolled in a photography class at the School of Visual Arts. At the same time he began shooting experimental photos in and around New York City, often choosing friends, landscapes and local architecture as his subjects. Finishing his studies in 1971, he returned to Liberia with camera in hand, embarking on what would become his first major project as a professional photographer.
Since that time, Belcher has developed into one of the nation's premiere living photographers. His photographic interests in portraiture and vernacular architecture have developed in conjunction with the thematic exploration of racial identity, emigration and history that run through his work in Africa, Asia, North America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. He has had numerous one-man shows in the eastern United States and has contributed to group exhibits across the U.S. and in Vietnam and Soviet Armenia. Belcher's photography is held both by private collectors and in the permanent collections of galleries and museums in the United States, Canada, and Vietnam. He has received major support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Kenan Charitable Trust, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His publications include House and Home: Spirits of the South (1994), A Land and Life Remembered: Americo-Liberian Folk Architecture (1988), both held by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and For Kids' Sake (1985). He has also taught black-and-white photography to beginning, intermediate and advanced students in Massachusetts, and is a frequent lecturer in New England. He currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife, Ellie Mandel.
- Belcher, Max.
- Documentary photography.
- Portrait photography.
- Architectural photography.
- Racially mixed people--United States.
- United States--Photographs.
- Dominican Republic--Photographs.
- Contact sheets
- Archive of Documentary Arts (Duke University)
[Identification of item], Max Belcher Photography Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired the Max Belcher Photography Collection in 1995 and 1997. While the collection is owned by the Library, Max Belcher retains the copyright to his work.
Processed by Lisa Gayle Hazirjian with Alexander X. Byrd, Karen Jefferson, and Diane Sutton
Completed August 30, 1998
Encoded by Don Sechler
Updated by Meghan Lyon, January 2009
This finding aid is NCEAD compliant.