Guide to the William J. Anderson photographs and papers, 1920s, 1947-2011, bulk 1960-2008
Collection features the photographic work of African American photographer, sculptor, and professor of art William J. Anderson, from his earliest years as an art student in the 1960s, to the late 2000s. Fifty-one large black-and-white gelatin silver prints are accompanied by over 500 negatives spanning his career, as well as contact sheets, slides, and smaller photographs in black-and-white and in color. Anderson's images primarily document the Deep South, especially Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, with a focus on portraits of African American adults and children, families, the elderly, church gatherings, jazz musicians, poverty and homelessness in the city and country, life on the Sea Islands, and Civil Rights movement events. Two significant bodies of work were taken at Daufuskie Island and a recreated African Yoruba village, both in South Carolina; other images were taken in Mexico, Central America, and France. Also includes Anderson's professional papers, fliers, and posters, chiefly relating to exhibits, and a sketchbook. Acquired as part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.
- Collection Number
- William J. Anderson photographs and papers
- 1920s, 1947-2011
- 7.0 Linear Feet, 9 boxes, 7.0 linear feet; approximately 1000 items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Materials in English
Collection comprises the photographic work of African American photographer, sculptor, and professor of art William J. Anderson, from his earliest years as an art student in the early 1960s, to the late 2000s. Fifty-one large black-and-white gelatin silver prints are accompanied by over 500 negatives spanning his career, as well as contact sheets, slides, and smaller photographs in black-and-white and in color.
Anderson's images primarily document African American culture and society in the Deep South, particularly in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, with a focus on African American adults and children, families, the elderly, church gatherings, jazz musicians, poverty and homelessness in the city and country, life on the Sea Islands, and political rallies, riots, and Civil Rights marches and commemorations. Two significant bodies of work were taken on Daufuskie Island and in a recreated African Yoruba village, both in South Carolina. Other images, many of which are available only in negative format, were taken in San Francisco, Louisiana, Mexico, Central America, and France. Most of the images from Mexico and Central America date from the 1960s and are among his earliest work. There are also many images, spanning his career, of his sculptures and other artwork, and photographs of his exhibition openings. Additionally, there are some family photographs and negatives, a few of which appear to date from the 1920s and 1950s.
The large prints range in size from approximately 10x14 to 16x20 inches, and are all labeled with a title and date and print number, assigned by the photographer; they are arranged in original print number order. The other photographic work is mostly unlabeled and arranged in original order as received.
The collection also includes Anderson's professional correspondence, printed materials such as clippings, posters, and fliers, and other papers, all chiefly relating to exhibits and loans, and a sketchbook on the human form from his earliest student days, about 1957. Among the correspondence is a copy of a letter written by Coretta Scott King, thanking him for his participation in a commemorative event.
Acquired as part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture at Duke University.
Arranged in three main series: Photographic Materials (subdivided into Photographs, Contact Sheets and Negatives, and Slides), Printed Materials, and Professional Papers.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for research. Images may only be used for educational, non-commercial purposes; any other use requires the photographer's permission.
Negatives in paper sleeves are housed separately and are closed to general use; access is only by permission of the John Hope Franklin Research Center curator. Negatives in plastic enclosures may be viewed without touching the artifact.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
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.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
Use & Permissions
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.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], William J. Anderson photographs and papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
Series consists of a large body of photographic materials created by Anderson, divided into the following subseries: Photographs (subdivided into Large Prints and Small Prints); Slides; and Contact Sheets and Negatives. The early 1920s date refers to two unlabeled negatives which reproduce what appear to be images of family members; there is also one family photograph which may be from the 1950s but is unlabeled. The earliest series of images taken by Anderson date from the 1960s, sometime during or after Anderson's student days at the Instituto Allende in Mexico.
Although most of the images reproduced in large format were taken in Georgia and South Carolina, there are also images from Alabama, Mississippi, and two images from Louisiana taken shortly after Hurricane Katrina. There are also two large prints of urban life in San Francisco and several from Mexico.
The most recent images across formats date from 2008 to 2011, and tend to focus on poverty, homelessness, and urban life for African Americans in Atlanta and other Southern cities; political and civil rights movement events; and portraits of African Americans. There is one contact sheet with images from an Obama election campaign rally.
Anderson worked exclusively with a film camera, thus the predominant print format is gelatin silver. There are some color photographs: these are chiefly family snapshots, photos taken at exhibitions, and later portraits of Anderson (mpst of these are digital inkjet or laser prints). Almost all the prints are unmatted, but there are a few mounted on foamcore and cardstock.
The negatives also are chiefly black-and-white, but color film formats are also present. Negatives in paper sleeves are closed ot general use; permission to view or use them can be requested from the curator of the John Hope Franklin Research Center at the Rubenstein Library. Negatives in plastic enclosures may be viewed without touching the artifact.
These large gelatin silver prints range in size from approximately 10x15 to 16x20 inches. Many are exhibit prints. They are numbered from 1-33 and 35-52, making 51 prints in all; there is no print numbered 34. All bear titles assigned by the photographer, and the year taken. Many appear to be vintage prints, while others were probably printed at a later date. An original print inventory is found in Box 1.
14 1/2 x 19 1/4 inches
14 7/8 x 19 1/2 inches
Named Oyotunji, this small American community modeled after traditional African Yoruba culture was established in Beaufort County, South Carolina in the 1970s. It was still in existence as of 2017.
11 x 14 inches
16 x 19 7/8 inches
19 7/8 x 15 3/4 inches
20 3/8 x 16 3/8 inches, size of image and board
13 7/8 x 11 inches (board is slightly larger)
14 1/2 x 15 1/4 inches
11 3/4 x 17 3/4 inches
11 1/4 x 17 5/8 inches (size of image and board)
Original exhibit and sales label on back.
13 5/8 x 18 5/8 inches
15 1/8 x 21 5/8 inches (mounted on board)
19 3/4 x 15 7/8 inchesOriginal Identifier
13 1/4 x 16 3/8 inchesOriginal Identifier
18 3/4 12 inchesOriginal Identifier
13 x 10 7/8 inches
15 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches
11 5/8 x 15 3/8 inches
14 1/2 x 19 7/8 inches
17 3/4 x 12 3/4 inches
18 1/4 x 14 inches
15 1/8 x 14 1/4 inches
18 3/4 x 12 1/2 inches
19 7/8 x 15 7/8 inches
14 1/2 x 17 3/8 inches
13 3/4 x 17 1/2 inches
15 1/4 x 10 3/4 inches
18 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches
12 x 14 3/8 inches
12 5/8 x 15 3/4 inches
15 3/8 x 12 1/2 inches
11 x 14 inches
14 x 11 inches
13 1/2 x 19 inches
Also has #1 written on back. Image shows Coretta Scott King, Father John Robinson, and John Lewis with others at the head of the march to commemorate the Pettus Bridge Civil Rights protest, March 8, 1965.
11 3/8 x 15 5/8 inches
16 x 19 7/8 inches
17 5/8 x 12 3/4 inches
18 3/4 x 13 1/2 inches
11 1/8 x 14 7/8 inches
13 7/8 x 16 1/2 inches
13 7/8 x 10 1/4 inches
9 1/4 x 10 3/4 inches
14 1/4 x 16 1/2 inches
15 1/8 x 19 inches
17 3/8 x 12 inches
19 3/8 x 15 1/8 inches
12 1/8 x 16 1/8 inches
16 1/2 x 13 1/4 inches
13 1/4 x 16 1/2 inches
These prints fall into three groups: 8x10 inch prints of professional work, photographs of Anderson's sculptures and a photograph exhibition, and personal snapshots of family, pets, and a barbeque; one of the personal snapshots appears to be from the 1950s.
One sequence of 14 black-and-white snapshots, circa 1970s, appears to be related to integrated elementary school education, and features a group of children of all races in the classroom and outside, studying and working on projects. Two groups of color snapshots depict actor Bill Cosby next to William Anderson at an unidentified ceremony (Cosby collected Anderson's work), and a photo exhibition opening, probably from the mid-2000s. Arranged in original order.
Most of these small prints measure 3x5 or 4x6 inches. The majority are black-and-white but a few groups are in color. There appears to be one photograph of family members from the 1950s; the rest chiefly date from the 1970s to the mid-2000s.
Most of these prints are 8x10 inches in size. There are several portraits of Anderson in his studio.
The slides consist chiefly of reproductions of Anderson's most significant photographic works, most of which are present in the collection in print format, but a few which are not. Most are in black-and-white, but some are in color. Other images include a set of snapshots of family members, print date 1991, in color, and a set of 15 art reproductions, including Picasso and Gauguin, perhaps used for teaching purposes. Arranged in original order.
Most of the items in this series consist of 35 and 120 mm negatives, mostly black-and-white, representing images taken by Anderson over his 40-year career in photography. The majority are unlabeled and undated, but some dates can be inferred from the content. There are also some dozen contact sheets, many of which are paired with their corresponding negatives; these have been numbered. The negatives most often appear as cut strips, but there are also many cut frames, chiefly 120 mm. The 1920s date refers to what appear to be reproductions of two earlier family photographs mounted on cardstock, perhaps from the early 1920s.
Anderson's earliest work was originally housed in two notebooks of images taken in Mexico and Central America sometime in the mid to late 1960s, when Anderson pursued an advanced art degree at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel, Mexico. A selection of these images is present in the print series. The negatives contain touristic images of sites such as Chichen Itza, while others of street life and people in Mexico show Anderson's developing professional style. These early images are followed by other early work from a third notebook, taken in various locations; some were labeled, and this information was transcribed on the new negative envelopes. Two of the notebooks with original notes by Anderson, along with other original photograph envelopes, have been retained in folders at the end of the Contacts and Negatives subseries.
The other negatives and contact sheets chiefly date from the 1970s to the late 2000s. The subject matter ranges widely: images include various demonstrations, probably in Atlanta; a streetside memorial; a campaign rally for Barack Obama; an NAACP fashion show; many images of urban life, including billboards, shops, and street graffiti; abandoned houses; art exhibits, most but not all of which are Anderson's; images of jazz musicians such as Count Basie; and portraits and snapshots of family members.
Most of the negatives are black-and-white, but some are in color: these are mostly personal snapshots of family or later exhibitions, and official portraits of Anderson. Some appear to have been taken at Knoxville College, a historically black institution in Tennessee.
The negatives and contact sheets are arranged primarily in the original sequence in which they were received, and are in mixed order in terms of dates and content.
Negatives needing paper envelopes have been housed separately and these are closed to use; other negatives in plastic sleeves may be viewed without touching the artifact.
Original negatives in paper sleeves are closed to general use unless by permission of the Archive of Documentary Arts curator. Negatives in plastic sleeves may be viewed without touching the artifact.
The earliest piece is a photocopy of an article appearing in 1951 announcing a senior high school class jazz recital, with Anderson's photo included. Other materials chiefly consist of exhibit fliers and reviews and articles about Anderson in magazines and newspapers spanning much of his career; there are also several posters.
Issue of publication from Hartford, Connecticut, has article on exhibit, "Riding the Wind," by Anderson, at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, and features "Woman with a pipe, Daufuskie Island, South Carolina," on the cover.
23 3/4 x 13 7/8 inches
The earliest piece in the series is a poem from 1947 that celebrates the early artistic talent of Anderson, written to "W.J." by his music teacher, E.L. Dinkins, whose name appears in a later piece of correspondence by a friend of Anderson's. Other materials in this series include a bound sketchbook from Anderson's undergraduate days at Layton School of Art, circa 1957; a small group of resumes and biographical statements; and a mix of professional correspondence and notes regarding loans of artwork, accomplishments, teaching appointments, and exhibit planning and publicity. There is also a group of correspondence sent to Anderson from an arts teacher in Ethiopia who was seeking help to come to the U.S. There are no teaching materials such as syllabi or bibliographies.
Among the items of interest in the papers is a photocopy of a letter of thanks from Coretta Scott King dated 1983 and a response from Anderson, whose artwork was exhibited as part of the commemoration of King's 54th birthday.
The earliest dated piece in the collection (1947) is a poem addressed to "W.J.," written by a teacher and extolling the young man's talents.
The inside cover bears the inscription, "Layton School of Art," a progressive private school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Anderson received his BA in Fine Art. Anderson's name is inscribed on the inside back cover. About 51 out of approximately 100 pages are filled with sketches of the human form and a few lecture notes; the rest are blank. There are no other known materials in the collection referring to this early period in Wisconsin.
A letter and a card from an arts teacher in Ethiopia, asking William Anderson for sponsorship to come to the U.S. to pursue advanced art studies. Documents he included with his correspondence to Anderson include a letter of recommendation, transcript, diploma, and his photograph.
Born in Selma, Alabama in 1932, William J. Anderson received a BA in music from Alabama State University in 1959, and a BA in Fine Art in 1962 from the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Under a full scholarship at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel, Mexico, he studied sculpture and painting, and received his MFA in 1968; he also began to to form an early interest in photography there. Motivated by concerns for racism and inequality in the United States, Anderson's first serious engagement with photography took place during the 1960s, where he photographed urban and rural poverty in the South as well as civil rights marches and other demonstrations.
After teaching in several Southern institutions, in 1990 Anderson was appointed to the art faculty at Morehouse University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he taught for many years, retiring in 2007.
His award-winning photographs have been exhibited widely in Mexico and the United States, and are in the permanent collections of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Yale University Art Gallery, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Anderson voiced this artistic philosophy in a 2003 interview in a Morehouse College publication: "I believe there is beauty in all life. From dilapidated houses and rundown farms, to old grayed gentlemen, there is simplicity that I want to capture. In my trips to various places I don't look for the affluent and prosperous. Instead, I look for a fast declining group of people who have really lived and enjoyed the living. I look for people whose faces tell a story. They know what life is about and I want to show this to the world."
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- African American art -- 20th century
- African American artists -- Correspondence
- African American artists -- Exhibitions
- African American photographers -- Georgia
- African Americans -- Portraits
- African Americans -- Social conditions -- 1964-1975
- African Americans -- Social conditions -- 1975-
- African Americans -- Social life and customs
- Civil rights movements -- Southern States -- Photographs
- Documentary Photography -- Southern States
- Alabama -- Pictorial works
- Daufuskie Island (S.C.) -- Photographs
- Georgia -- Pictorial works
- Mississippi -- Pictorial works
- South Carolina -- Pictorial works
- Southern States -- Photographs
- Southern States -- Social conditions
The William J. Anderson photographs and papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 2014.
Processed by Paula Jeannet and Rachel Fox, August 2017.
Accession(s) represented in this collection guide: 2014-0155.