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Guide to the William Gedney photographs and writings, 1940s-1989 and undated

William Gedney Photographs and Writings - Duke Digital Collections Digitized Content
Selected photographs and writings from this collection have been digitized and are available in: William Gedney Photographs and Writings - Duke Digital Collections.

Abstract

William Gedney (1932-1989) was a documentary photographer and teacher based in New York, N.Y. Collection consist of negatives, contact sheets, proofs, prints, slides, indexes, handmade illustrated books, journals and diaries, and photographer's notebooks, documenting Gedney's work as a photographer from the mid-1950s until his death in 1989. Taken together, the proof, work, and finished prints, all in black-and-white, number over thirty thousand items. The black-and-white images document society and culture in the United States, particularly in New York City, New York State, the northern Plains, rural Eastern Kentucky, Chicago, and San Francisco. Other images were taken in India, primarily in Benares and Calcutta, England, Ireland, and Paris. Three other major thematic bodies of work are a series of images taken at night, a series of nudes, and a large group of portraits of American composers. Handmade books in the collection were designed and made by Gedney and are illustrated with his photographic prints. Supporting manuscript and print materials are found in personal and professional papers that include photo indexes, correspondence, project files, artwork from early student years, and writings and notebooks. Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University. CLOSED: Collection is closed pending digitization. Researchers are encouraged to consult the previous digital collection (containing a selection of materials from the collection) that is available at: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/gedney/

Descriptive Summary

Collection Number
RL.10032
Title
William Gedney photographs and writings
Date
1940s-1989 and undated
Extent
60.3 Linear Feet, Approx. 50,000 items
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Language
English.

Collection Overview

The William Gedney Photographs and Writings collection dates from the 1940s to 1989 and includes negatives, contact sheets, proofs, prints, slides, indexes, book proofs, handmade illustrated books, journals and diaries, personal papers, and photographer's notebooks, all of which document Gedney's work as a photographer and writer from the 1950s until his death in 1989. NOTE: collection is closed pending digitization. A portion of the collection was digitized in 1995 and is available online. Please contact the Rubenstein Library for more information.

Gedney's black-and-white images document American society and culture in mid-20th century, particularly in New York City, New York State, Chicago, the northern plains of South Dakota and Montana, rural Eastern Kentucky, and San Francisco. A second large body of work derives from his travels to India, primarily in Benares and Calcutta. Three other major thematic bodies of work are a large series of images taken at night in cities across the country, a series of nudes chiefly photographed at Cooper Union and Pratt Institute, where Gedney taught, and a series consisting of portraits of American composers. A body of handmade books and unpublished book projects in the collection were designed and made by Gedney and are illustrated with his photographic prints.

Gedney's entire photographic corpus is present in the form of negatives, contact sheets, test prints, more than 18,000 proof prints, and over 2000 large finished prints. The large finished prints are arranged by body of work in alphabetical order: Composers, Farm, England/Ireland, India, Night, Nudes, Paris, and United States (Kentucky, New York, San Francisco, U.S. Trips, and other subseries). Supporting materials that inform the photographic work are found in Gedney's personal and professional papers, which form the Indexes, Print Materials, and Book Projects series, and the Correspondence, Financial and Legal Materials, Grants and Work-Related Files, Medical Records, Personal Papers, and Writings and Notebooks series. The writings and notebooks, in particular, provide an extraordinary perspective on Gedney's interests, his thoughts on photography, and his development as a photographer. Finally, there is also an Artwork Series stemming from his work as an art student at the Pratt Institute from approximately 1954 to 1958.

A predominant subject in the photographs and papers across time is Gedney's home base of New York City, especially Brooklyn. Gedney lived on Myrtle Avenue, and many of his New York street scenes were shot there. Gedney also documented early gay rallies and marches in New York City during the 1970s and early 1980s; the dates for many of these events coincide with the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Other New York subjects include: cultural festivals, such as the Italian-American celebrations, Sunday School parades, first communion parades, street festivals, and Good Friday processions; street life in general and crowds in particular; gospel churches and revivals; the Washington Market; a Brooklyn bar named O'Rourke's; the Brooklyn Bridge; Coney Island; and the subway and elevated trains. As part of an assignment to create the photographs and layout for a publication, Gedney also photographed young children and teachers at St. Joseph's School for the Deaf.

Other events Gedney photographed include car shows, flower shows, motorcycle rallies, and body building exhibitions. There are photographs of Diane Arbus, a photographer, at the body building exhibitions. Some of Gedney's earliest images were taken at his grandparents' farm, located in Norton Hill, N.Y. Gedney also photographed neighborhoods in Rochester, Albany, and his hometown of Greenville, N.Y. Photographs of friends and family in New York, San Francisco (Eric and Lili Osborne), and Paris (photographer Raghubir Singh and his wife Anne), as well as self-portraits of Gedney, are found throughout the collection.

Among Gedney's other American subjects are the 100 well-known composers whose portraits he took between 1965 and 1969 in cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He designed a book project from this promising body of work, but it was never published. Lists of names, dates, and locations can be found in the Writings and Notebooks series. Gedney traveled to San Francisco in 1966; photographs in that series feature the youth culture of that city, with subjects including the Diggers, the Grateful Dead, Allen Ginsberg, and festivals in Golden Gate Park. Another significant body of work in the collection documents families living in rural Eastern Kentucky during summer 1964 and 1972. Settings include the Blue Diamond Mining camp (which closed in 1964), Grassy Branch Holler, Two Forks Holler, and Hazard. The families with whom Gedney stayed were the Couch family in Leatherwood, Kentucky (site of the Blue Diamond mine), and the Cornett family in Big Rock, Kentucky. He also took a side trip to Wheeling, West Virginia during July 1964.

In the 1960s, Gedney also traveled extensively in the United States by car. During his travels he photographed night-time scenes of buildings and houses in New York State, Pennsylvania, Tennessessee, South Dakota, Montana, and California, which forming a large body of work he called "Night." These locations are starkly portrayed, often with cars featured in the foreground. During a cross-country trip in 1966, Gedney also visited and photographed the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota, a Trappist monastery in New York, and migrant farm workers on strike in Southern California.

In 1969, Gedney was one of six photographers hired to document the work of the Social Security Administration. He was assigned to the Hays, Kansas Bureau and spent time photographing Social Security client interviews, and Fort Hays College. Although the negatives were sent to the Social Security administration, the contact sheets and photographs remain in the collection. During this time, Gedney also visited the Norton State Hospital for the mentally disabled in Norton, Kansas, and took many portraits of its patients.

The largest body of photographs in the collection was taken during several trips to India from 1969 to 1971, and then again in 1980. Subjects include street scenes; ritual wrestlers; temple scenes and activities; bathing in the Ganges; festivals such as Holi, and other religious and cultural celebrations; Yantra and Shiva pujas; wall paintings; a wedding; actors, acrobats, and other entertainers; scenes with artisans such as painters, sculptors, and photographers; merchants and markets; and religious men with their followers. There are also night scenes, primarily of people sleeping out of doors. The Slides Series primarily reference the Indian wall paintings, which were created by the Kumbhar caste. The slides are the only color images in the collection and were probably used in Gedney's teaching.

Other subjects or locations photographed by Gedney include England, Ireland, and Paris, taken during several trips to Europe during the 1970s; he visited Paris again in 1982. The images are chiefly of street scenes in major cities; as in San Francisco, Gedney seemed most interested in the youth culture.

Accession (1997-0061) includes seven 10x16 inch copy prints of images by Gedney printed by Julie Stovall of the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies from negatives in the collection.

Accession (1998-0282) (interfiled) contains legal papers, including a copy of Gedney's will and other documents and correspondence related to the settlement of his estate. It also includes a set of cassette tapes that contain lectures and interviews recorded by Gedney, chiefly at the institutions where Gedney taught. Many of these are most likely individuals who came to lecture at Gedney's invitation. There is one recording of a New York City radio interview with Diane Arbus, rebroadcast after her death.

Accession (1999-0124) (1 box, dated 1970-1971) contains photocopies of letters from Gedney to Lili Osborne, written from India (1970-1971) and New York (undated), together with 1998 cover letters from Osborne to Sandra Phillips and Maria Friedlander.

Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.

Restrictions on Access & Use

A majority of collections are stored off site and must be requested at least 48 business hours in advance for retrieval. Contact Rubenstein Library staff before visiting. Read More »

warning Access Restrictions

CLOSED: Collection is closed pending digitization. Researchers are encouraged to consult the previous digital collection (containing a selection of materials from the collection) that is available at: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/gedney/

Please contact Research Services at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library for more information.

Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is closed pending digitization. A portion of the collection was digitized in 1995 and is available online. Please contact the Rubenstein Library for more information.

warning Use Restrictions

The copyright to the collection is owned by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Historical Note

Chronology

Date Event(s)
1932, Oct. 29 Born, New York, N.Y.
1955 B.F.A., Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, N.Y.
1955-1965 Graphic designer for magazine layout and book design
1964 Photographed in Eastern Kentucky
1965-1969 Photographed American composers
1968, Dec.-1969, March Exhibit: Eastern Kentucky and San Francisco: Photographs by William Gedney, Museum of Modern Art, New York
1969, Summer Documented work of the Social Security Administration, Hays, Kansas
1969-1971 Photographed in India
1969-1989 (?) Adjunct Assistant Professor, Cooper Union, New York
1971-1989(?) Assistant Professor, Pratt Institute, New York
1972 Photographed in Kentucky
1978-1980 Exhibit: Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960, Museum of Modern Art, New York
1980 Photographed in Calcutta, India
1989, June 23 Died of AIDS, New York, N.Y.
1990 William Gedney's collection of photography books and equipment presented to Chitrabani Center, Calcutta, India
2000 Large retrospective exhibition, Short Distances and Definite Places: The Photographs of William Gedney held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

William Gedney received the following fellowships and grants: a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, 1966-1967; a Fulbright Fellowship for photography in India, 1969-1971; a New York State Creative Artists Public Service Program (C.A.P.S.) grant, 1972-1973; and a National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1975-1976.

Group shows in which Gedney's work was exhibited include Museum of Modern Art shows, Photography Current Report in 1968, Ben Schultz Memorial Collection in 1969, and Recent Acquisitions in 1971; Vision and Expression, George Eastman House, Rochester Institute of Technology, 1972. A major retrospective exhibit was held in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2000.

Subject Headings

Provenance

The William Gedney Photographs and Writings was a gift from Richard T. Gedney and Lee Friedlander to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 1992; additions received in 1998 and 1999.

Processing Information

Originally processed by: Donna Longo DiMichele and Phoebe A. Evans, 1994

Collection is currently closed pending digitization. A portion of the collection was digitized in 1995 and is available online. Please contact the Rubenstein Library for more information.