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Beaumont and Nancy Newhall papers, 1843-1993 (bulk 1929-1993)

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Newhall (Beaumont and Nancy) Papers

Biographical / Historical Note

Beaumont Newhall is perhaps the first champion of the study of photography as art, and of its history. He was born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1908 and graduated from Harvard University in 1932. After an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Newhall became the Librarian at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1937, at the request of Director Alfred Barr, Newhall organized the museum's first exhibition of photographs. His History of Photography, published for the exhibition, introduced formal criteria for judging photography as a fine art. Revised five times and translated into several languages, it remains a widely read textbook on the history of photography.

In 1940 Beaumont Newhall became the first Curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art. He was drafted in 1942 and sent to North Africa and Italy in a photo-reconnaissance division. In his absence Nancy Newhall, whom he had married in 1936, served as Acting Curator. Beaumont Newhall resumed his Curatorship after the war, but resigned in 1945 over artistic differences with the new director, Edward Steichen.

In 1948, Beaumont Newhall became the first Curator of Photography at the George Eastman House, and then served as its Director from 1958 to 1971, building a significant photography collection. After his retirement, Newhall accepted a position as Visiting Professor of Art at the University of New Mexico, where he helped to establish the first doctoral program in the history of photography at an American university. He died in 1993.

In his long career, Beaumont Newhall authored numerous articles and reviews of books about photography. In addition to History of Photography, he wrote Masters of Photography (with Nancy Newhall, 1958), The daguerreotype in America (1961), Frederick Evans (1964), Latent image: the discovery of photography (1967) and Focus: memoirs of a life in photography (1993). He also published a book of photographs, In plain sight: the photographs of Beaumont Newhall (1983)

Nancy Newhall (Nancy Wynne Parker) was born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1908. She graduated from Smith College, where she showed talent as a writer and painter, and married Beaumont Newhall in 1936. After serving as Acting Curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art (1942-45), she wrote articles about photographers, edited and introduced photography books by Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, and others, and collaborated with Ansel Adams on several books about the American West, including Yosemite Valley (1959), Death Valley (1954), The Tetons and Yellowstone (1970), and This is the American Earth (1960). With Minor White, she founded the magazine Aperture. She died in 1974, struck by a falling tree while rafting down the Snake River with Beaumont.

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