Menu

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 was a documentary photographer and teacher based in New York, N.Y.

NOTE: collection is closed pending updates to housing, arrangement, and description. Materials 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 over several decades until his death in 1989. Taken together, the proof, work, and finished prints, all in black-and-white, number over twenty thousand. The images document society and culture in the United States, particularly in New York, rural Kentucky, and San Francisco; scenes from India, primarily in Benares and Calcutta; scenes in England, Ireland, and Paris; and urban and rural landscapes across the United States. 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. More than half of the collection's series house photographic materials, and include the Negatives, Contact Sheets, Proofs, Prints, Film Development Tests, and Slides (transparencies) Series. Other formats are represented in the Indexes, Writings and Notebooks, Miscellaneous, Print Material, and Book Projects Series.

Descriptive Summary

Title
William Gedney photographs and writings 1940s-1989 and undated (NOTE: COLLECTION IS CLOSED PENDING UPDATES TO HOUSING AND DESCRIPTION)
Creator
Gedney, William, d. 1989
Extent
60.3 Linear Feet, Approx. 50,000 items
Repository
Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Location
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
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, documenting Gedney's work as a photographer and writer over several decades until his death in 1989. Taken together, the photographs (in the form of proofs, work prints, and finished prints), number over thirty thousand items. The black-and-white images document society and culture in the United States, particularly in New York, rural Kentucky, and San Francisco; scenes from India, primarily in Benares and Calcutta; and urban and rural landscapes across the United States. Three other major thematic bodies of work are a series of images taken at night, a series of nudes, and a large series consisting of portraits of American composers. The "Night" series was created throughout most of Gedney's career and spanned all geographic locations. The nudes were primarily photographed at the Pratt Institute where Gedney taught. A body of handmade books in the collection were designed and made by Gedney and are illustrated with his photographic prints.

More than half of the collection's series houses photographic materials, and includes the Negatives, Contact Sheets, Proofs, Prints, Film Development Tests, and Slides Series. The collection currently follows Gedney's arrangement by photographic format rather than by body of work, thus images from a particular theme typically will be located in each format series. Other formats are represented in the Indexes, Writings and Notebooks, Print Material, Book Projects, and Miscellaneous Series.

A predominant subject in the collection, one that appears in most of the series, is New York, especially Brooklyn. Subjects include religious festivals, such as the Italian-American feast of San Gennaro, Sunday School parades, first communion parades, and Good Friday processions; gospel revivals; the Washington Market; a bar named O'Rourke's; the Brooklyn Bridge; Coney Island; the subway and "the El"; St. Joseph's School for the Deaf; and the Salvation Army. Gedney lived on Myrtle Avenue, and many of his New York street scenes were made there. Gedney also documented early gay rallies and marches in New York City, and the dates of these events usually coincide with the anniversary dates of the Stonewall riots. Other events Gedney photographed include car shows, flower shows, 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 The "Farm," located in Norton Hill, N.Y. Gedney also photographed in Rochester, Albany, and his hometown of Greenville, N.Y. Photographs of friends and family, as well of Gedney, are found throughout the collection. His notebooks and writings also document life in New York; some of them are titled "Myrtle Avenue."

Among Gedney's other American subjects are 100 composers who he photographed between 1965 and 1969. The composer series forms a significant body of work, although the photographs are scattered throughout the collection. A partial list of the composers is in the collection's Information Folder in the inventory drawer. The San Francisco photographic work, also a substantive series, focused on hippies and youth from 1966 to 1967. Another significant body of American work in the collection is Gedney's extensive photographic studies of rural Eastern Kentucky in 1964 and 1972. The Kentucky works were created in the Blue Diamond Mining Company camp, Grassy Branch Holler, Two Forks Holler, and in Hazard; the Couch family in Leatherwood, Ky., and the Cornett family in Big Rock, Ky., were the central characters in the images.

Gedney made one or two trips across the United States by car during the years 1965 to 1967. During his travels he photographed "Night" scenes in various towns. He also photographed Indian reservations, a monastery, farm workers, and various cities, forming the "Cross Country" series. One of six photographers hired to document the work of the Social Security Administration in 1968, Gedney was assigned to the Hays, Kansas Bureau. Kansas subjects include the Norton County Hospital, Hadley Hospital, Social Security client interviews, and Fort Hays College.

Gedney produced a large body of photographs during several trips to India in the 1970s. Subjects include street scenes; ritual wrestlers; temple scenes and activities; bathing in the Ganges; festivals such as Holi; a Krishna festival; a monkey temple festival; Yantra and Shiva pujas; wall paintings; a wedding; actors, acrobats, and other entertainers; artisans, such as painters, sculptors, and photographers; merchants and markets; and religious men. 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. Other subjects or locations photographed by Gedney include England, Ireland, and Paris.

The Writings and Notebooks Series is a source for information about Gedney's interests; his personal reflections, including his thoughts about the subjects he was photographing; and technical information about his camera work and darkroom procedures. Gedney copied quotes and kept clippings about subjects in which he was interested, and often photographing, in handmade notebooks. Different notebooks dating from the same period often complement each other, one giving a more diary-like narrative and the other offering more factual information.

The Indexes Series consists of small prints attached to 5x7 cards or to 8.5x11 sheets that contain notes about the subject and printing specifications. They appear to have been created by Gedney to serve as references to his prints.

Finally, the Exhibit Prints, a subseries of the Prints Series, houses a collection of 11x14 prints in 16x20 mats, which formed the 2000 San Francisco retrospective exhibition of Gedney's work.

Accession (1998-0508) (7 boxes, 1 oversize folder) consists chiefly of William Gedney's personal papers, which include: medical papers, financial and legal papers, correspondence, grants and work related files, writings and notebooks, sketches, and paintings.

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 (1998-0197) (1 box, dated 1950s-1970s) contains handmade scrapbooks, photographs, and book dummies.

Accession (1998-0282) (interfiled in box 116) 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 seem to contain interviews recorded by Gedney with various individuals.

Accession (1998-0345) (1 box, dated 1986-1987) contains one large black and white photograph of Gedney and his dog by Lee Friedlander; and one illustrated, humorous thank-you letter from Gedney to Mr. and Mrs. Friedlander.

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

Administrative Information

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 completion of project to update arrangement, housing, and description.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript 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

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

Project to update housing, arrangement, and description by Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, 2014

Collection is currently closed pending update to arrangement and description. The project is scheduled for completion by Fall 2014.

This finding aid is NCEAD compliant.