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Photography Oral History Project

Identifier: SV-0001

Scope and Contents

These audio recordings were originally made during an oral history project conducted from 1975 to 1979 and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project was directed by James McQuaid, and sponsored by the George Eastman Museum. The project includes extensive interviews with key figures in photography, including André Kertész (1894–1985), the pioneering photojournalist; Jacob Deschin (1900–1983), photography editor for the New York Times; Lisette Model (1901–1983), known for her brash and memorable street photography and her mentorship of Diane Arbus, among many other photographers; Henry Holmes Smith (1909–1986), renowned as a teacher and creative photographer; Brett Weston (1911–1993), famed for his elemental landscape and nature photographs; Arthur Siegel (1913–1978), the influential experimental and documentary photographer; and Carl Siembab (1926–2007), owner of a Boston art gallery. For Arthur Siegel, Henry Holmes Smith, and Brett Weston, background interviews with other photographers, friends, and family members were also conducted.

These recordings document a significant period of photographic history. The interviews provide a detailed view onto photography in the early to middle twentieth century, as well as a portrait of the individuals. Their lives, professional as well as personal, varied greatly. Each photographer made a living in a slightly different fashion, and experienced varied levels of success. Their professional careers ranged from art to commercial photography to teaching. Several were born in Europe, some resided for long periods in other countries, and most traveled widely. Together they create a sense of the wide range of activity that makes up the practice we call photography.

The Oral History Project was a landmark oral history project, fully funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and followed a rigorous methodology. Extensive research on each photographer was undertaken before the interviews, and the meetings took place at the photographer’s home. To ensure coverage of the photographers entire biography, sets of questions were assembled. To further enhance the value of the interviews, large sets of slides were assembled to serve as points of discussion. The average length of the interviews is 12 hours. Some of the interviews were transcribed and edited.

In 1997-98, a grant from the New York State Library Conservation Program funded a project to preserve the tapes made during the Oral History Project. A preservation copy in reel-to-reel format and a cassette service copy for use in the library were created. The original reel-to-reel tapes were rewound onto new hubs, and housed in new containers. The original boxes were discarded with all information transferred to new labels. Cassette originals were retained. A summary of the project, written by the audio engineer appears in the next section.

In 2018 digitization and sharing of this archival audio was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, grant number MA-30-19-0681-19.


  • Creation: 1976 - 1979



37 Digital File(s)

Language of Materials



The Silver Voices Project, which allowed for digitization and sharing of this archival audio, was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, grant number MA-30-19-0681-19. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this audio do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


Guide to the Photography Oral History Project
In Progress
Ken Fox
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Silver Voices Repository

George Eastman Museum
Richard and Ronay Menschel Library
Rochester NY 14607 United States