Nancy Newhall

(1908 – 1974)

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A new language of images is apparently evolving, and with it a new use of words.

– Nancy Newhall

Nancy Newhall Biography

MoMA curator, writer, artist, inventor of a new kind of book, Nancy Newhall greatly influenced the development of photography as an art form. But only today, more than 30 years after her tragic death, are her multifaceted contributions gaining the recognition they deserve.

Her husband Beaumont, the pre-eminent photography historian, founded the department of photography at New York’s MoMA. When he was called into service in World War II, Nancy Newhall took over his duties as curator for three years. She had to prove herself to a skeptical board, but she soon gained a reputation as a highly capable curator, uncompromising in her vision.

A founding member of Aperture magazine, Newhall helped to conceptually shape the publication and was a frequent contributor. She collaborated with many of the photographic luminaries of the day—Ansel Adams, Edward and Brett Weston, Paul Strand, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Minor White—writing text to accompany their images for magazine articles and books. She pioneered a new genre of the photography book, one in which images are paired not with descriptive text but with allusive excerpts from poems, letters, and personal reflections. Photography, she believed, was its own language, one that must prove its relevancy as a mode of communication.

Although she kept her own art private, Newhall was also a talented photographer with a personal and intimate artistic “voice.” In tight, graphically bold compositions, she framed details from the natural and industrial world. Now, her work is being published for the first time in the book A Literacy of Images (2008) and exhibited in a solo show at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. Also for the first time, Scheinbaum & Russek, exclusive executors of [right phrasing?]her estate, are making her vintage 4” x 5” contact prints available to collectors.

Selected bibliography:
A Literacy of Images
The Daybooks of Edward Weston I & II
(George Eastman House, 1961)

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