Scope and Contents
||Eliot Elisofon's career as a photojournalist, filmmaker, author, artist, and
collector of primitive art and sculpture is documented by photographs,
transparencies, slides, negatives, films, research material, notes, photo captions,
logbooks, correspondence, agreements and other documents, drafts, proofs, tear
sheets, clippings, scrapbooks, catalogs, sketchbooks and artifacts, all dating
1933 to 1988. The archive is organized in ten series: I. Photography Files,
1933-1973, undated; II. Film and Television Projects, 1953-1973, 1986; III. Writings
and Lectures, 1938-1973; IV. Artwork, 1935-1969, undated; V. Exhibitions, 1936-1986;
VI. Private Art Collection, 1939-1969, undated; VII. Food Files, 1943-1969, undated;
VIII. Correspondence, 1930-1973, undated; IX. About Elisofon, 1930-1985; and X.
Elisofon, 1976-1988, undated. Within each series material is arranged primarily
chronological order. For preservation reasons, photographic materials have been
physically separated into three sets of document boxes according to format--prints
and paper material, color transparencies, and black and white negatives. Oversize
prints and paper material have been removed and housed in flat boxes, and glass
slides are housed in a file cabinet drawer. However, the folder list keeps these
materials together intellectually.
||Elisofon's photography files, the first and largest series, are arranged by the date
the photographs were originally taken, as much as can be determined, and not by
date they were published, since the images may have been published much later,
multiple publications, or not at all. Elisofon is remembered primarily as a
photographer for Life magazine, as his relationship
with that magazine spanned 35 years, and the collection reflects that dominance;
majority of the photographs were taken for that magazine or for Time-Life Books.
Other photographs include those taken for personal reasons, for other books and
publications, or for commercial assignments.
||Other series relate to Elisofon's film and television projects, writings and
lectures, artwork, exhibitions, art collection, food files, and correspondence.
series contains various materials about Elisofon, and another relates to his
daughter Elin's work on a book and exhibition. Materials relating to films for
Elisofon served as a still photographer only are housed with the photography files,
but materials relating to films for which he served in other technical capacities
are located in the film series. Elisofon was a published author, and he also served
as a visiting lecturer or instructor at numerous universities, museums, and clubs.
Materials relating to those writings and lectures form two subseries within the
Writings and Lectures series. In addition, Elisofon was an artist noted for his
watercolors of nudes and flowers; his sketchbooks, as well as photographs of some
his paintings, can be found in the archive (Series IV). Materials relating to
exhibitions of Elisofon's paintings are combined with items relating to exhibitions
of his photographs and objects from his collection of primitive art in a single
series (Series V). Other manuscripts and photographs, including records of sales
donations, relating to Elisofon's private art collection are located within their
own series (Series VI). Elisofon's culinary interest is reflected throughout the
collection, and recipes are located in his logbooks as well as in the Food Files
series. Wherever possible, materials have been maintained in their original order,
so that correspondence located with particular files remains in those files, while
other similar correspondence may be found in the Correspondence series. All
correspondents in the papers are listed in the Index of Correspondents at the
||Material about Elisofon is divided into five subseries. Transcripts and clippings
interviews, published articles, and essays about Elisofon form the first subseries.
Scrapbooks, primarily containing early tear sheets and clippings about Elisofon,
form the second subseries. Elisofon's personal files of medical papers, financial
and legal documents, address books, and the like make up the third subseries.
fourth subseries comprises personal photographs, mainly of Elisofon. The fifth
subseries contains periodicals collected by Elisofon that do not contain his work.
Elin Elisofon's files from her work on a biography and exhibition on her father
(Series IX) conclude the collection.
||Because Elisofon's daughter Elin began sorting and organizing the material before
was acquired by the Ransom Center, she is very much a part of the archive. Besides
providing much of the arrangement and many titles, she produced her own notes
correspondence; these are scattered throughout the collection, although the bulk
her work files are located in the final series. Eliot's and Elin's folder titles
indicated in the folder list by single quotation marks; these titles are usually
same as the story assignment title given by Life
||Films, a videotape, and three empty film and negative containers have been removed
from the archive and are housed separately in the Ransom Center. Books and
periodicals, including some issues of Life, have been
cataloged separately with the Center's book holdings. Those items are listed as
Associated Materials at the end of this finding aid. Other lists at the end of
guide include Elisofon's cover photographs, published photographs of Elisofon,
prints and negatives of Elisofon, his wives and his daughters.
Outline of Series
- Series I. Photography Files, 1933-1973, undated
- Series II. Film and Television Projects, 1953-1973, 1986
- Series III. Writings and Lectures, 1938-1973
- Series IV. Artwork, 1935-1969, undated
- Series V. Exhibitions, 1936-1986
- Series VI. Private Art Collection, 1939-1969, undated
- Series VII. Food Files, 1943-1969, undated
- Series VIII. Correspondence, 1930-1973, undated
- Series IX. About Elisofon, 1930-1985, undated
- Series X. Elin Elisofon, 1976-1988, undated
Organization by Format Storage
- Black and white prints, color prints, and paper material, boxes 1-80
- Oversize material, boxes 81-82
- Scrapbooks, boxes 83-85
- Color transparencies, boxes 86-133
- Black and white negatives, boxes 134-156
- Glass slides, FC 13.8
||Series I. Photography Files, 1933-1973, undated (109
||Elisofon's photography files consist of photographs, negatives,
transparencies, and paper documentation, from his early images of New York
in the 1930s to his final story assignments in 1973. Significant items
include Elisofon's logbooks, which are a valuable record of his travels and
assignments. These notebooks contain dated captions, travel information,
names and addresses, recipes, and miscellaneous jottings, including poetry
and sketches by Elisofon. Among notable files are those for LIFE assignments, including Elisofon's first
photographs published in Life, taken for
stories on Jewish holidays and tintype street photographers.
||Elisofon photographed many well-known personalities during his lifetime.
Among these were dancers, including Martha Graham, Anna Sokolow, and the
Miriam Winslow-Foster Fitz-Simons troupe; artists, such as Julio De Diego,
Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O'Keeffe, and I. Rice Pereira; sculptors, including
Chaim Gross, Martin Hebald, Robert Indiana, Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi,
Billy Rose, and William Zorach; musicians and singers, such as Sallie Blair,
Maria Callas, Helen Gallagher, and Alexander Schneider; actors, actresses
and other celebrities, such as Ursula Andress, Eddie Cantor, Cyd Charisse,
Doris Day, Greer Garson, Richard Harris, Helen Hayes, Willie Hartack, Rita
Hayworth, Audrey Hepburn, Veronica Lake, Gypsy Rose Lee, Roddy McDowall,
Steve McQueen, Minnesota Fats, Kim Novak, Eddie Rickenbacker, Harold Rome,
Mickey Rooney, Jane Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth
Taylor, Gene Tierney, and Lana Turner; and political figures, such as Harry
Truman, U Thant, and Nelson Rockefeller. A Life story on jazz musicians
featured Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Duke
Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, and Charlie Parker.
Numerous Hollywood celebrities, among them Natalie Wood, Charlton Heston,
and Henry Fonda, were photographed in their homes for Elisofon's
illustrations for Arthur Knight's book Hollywood
||Elisofon photographed theatrical productions, including Amahl and the Night Visitors, Compulsion, Mary
Stuart, The Millionairess (in
London), The Music Man, Romeo and Juliet, Three
Penny Opera, Three Wishes for
Jamie, Time and the River (Waco,
Texas), as well as the making of the films The
African Queen, Doctor Dolittle,
The Greatest Story Ever Told, Khartoum, Moulin
Rouge, She, The Sound of Music, Splendor in the Grass, The War
Lord, and others.
||Elisofon made photographic records of art and sculpture in museums all over
the world, including the Victoria and Albert Museum and British Museum in
London, the Musée Guimet in Paris, the Leiden Museum, the Museum of Modern
Art in New York, the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, the Gilcrease Museum in
Tulsa, and the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. Among
Elisofon's many architectural subjects were pyramids in Teotihuacan and Juan
O'Gorman's house near Mexico City, Konarak and other temples in India, the
Charles Wrightsman house in Palm Beach, the New Museum in Israel, and Bali
temples in Indonesia.
||Elisofon also photographed historically significant moments. Prior to World
War II, he documented the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and training exercises at
Fort Benning and Fort Knox, and his photograph of George S. Patton was used
as the first color cover of Life. During the
war he covered the North African campaign, with much time spent in Tunisia
and Casablanca, and among his subjects were Patton, Dwight D. Eisenhower,
artist Fletcher Martin, Henri Giraud, and the 4th Indian Division of the 8th
Army. He was also present at the surrender at Wake Island. During an
assignment on South Dakota, Elisofon photographed the carving of Mount
Rushmore. He documented Jawaharlal Nehru's funeral in 1964. He took
photographs of celebrities participating in a rally at the Hollywood Bowl
and in the 1963 Freedom March in Washington.
||Elisofon was well known for his geographical photo essays, and he traveled
all over the world documenting places and people of other cultures. Among
the locations he photographed were the South Sea Islands, the West Indies,
the Atlantic coastlines of the United States and Europe, Indonesia, Japan,
Egypt, India, Africa, Hawaii, Canada, South America, Israel, Mexico, and
numerous areas around the United States. For "Great Sights of the World" and "Exotic Bazaars" stories he traveled to major cities around the
world, photographing their best-known sights.
||Elisofon also was skilled at photographing food. He shot European restaurants
for Life and for Canadian Club
advertisements, foods for barbecuing, teenage cooking, cooking turtles,
Christmas foods, Indian cooking, Chinese cooking, etc. For Time-Life Books'
Foods of the World series he photographed in Southeast Asia, Indonesia,
Russia, Poland, India, and Pakistan.
||Among the wide variety of cultural and human interest stories were
assignments on the Olneyville Boys Club, a Chinese mural in Kansas City,
Seminole Indians, the New York Rangers ice hockey team, the British royal
family's visits to South Africa (1947) and the Fiji Islands (1953), the 1939
and 1963 World's Fairs in New York, fireplace styles, kitchens, fashions,
cars, and toys.
||Elisofon documented a number of social issues; among these were the lack of
playgrounds in Manhattan, a poverty-stricken rural Alabama family, the
Cotton Stamp plan in Memphis, relief efforts in Ohio, and the Westchester
Health Department. In 1939 he took photographs of the rural poor who had
been the subjects of the Federal Writers Project book These Are Our Lives.
||Among Elisofon's advertising photographs are those for Canadian Club; for
Tydol Flying A Gasoline, featuring early photographs of American Airlines;
and for Soligor Lens, using the fashion model Ultra Violet.
||Elisofon contributed photographs for many books, including the Time-Life
Foods of the World cookbook series, a Crowell-Collier series of children's
books about children of other countries, and Joseph Campbell's edition of
Heinrich Zimmer's The Art of Indian Asia.
||The materials in this series are arranged in chronological order by the dates
on which photographs were taken, rather than by publication dates, since
there were sometimes long periods of time until publication, and some
stories were never published. As a result, Life magazine stories are roughly in order by their set, or
story, number. Due to varying preservation storage requirements, photographs
and paper materials are filed in one set of boxes, while negatives and
transparencies are housed in separate sets of boxes. Elisofon's logbooks are
housed at the end of the series.
||Elisofon's and his daughter Elin's labels have been transcribed and are noted
in the folder list by single quotation marks; cataloger-supplied information
is in brackets. Labels were transcribed from glassine negative envelopes,
and those envelopes with writing or notes were retained and filed behind
their associated negatives. Elisofon's roll numbers are letter-coded; an R
before the roll number indicates it was taken with his Rolleiflex camera
(120mm film); C, with his Contax camera (35mm); K, with Kodachrome 35mm
slide film; and P, with his filmpack camera. An "X" on a particular frame or with an exposure number probably
indicates that the exposure was printed.
||Original assignment titles, published titles, and other publication
information for stories are provided in the folder list when known. Prints
and negatives are black and white unless noted as color. Elisofon's prints
sometimes vary from standard sizes by millimeters. The approximate sizes
and, when there are more than one, the number of photographic images are
provided. Life magazine's set, or story,
numbers, are indicated where they exist; stories shot for personal reasons,
for freelance purposes, or for other publications, do not have set numbers.
It is probable that set numbers preceded by "LB" indicate Time-Life Books assignments. A complete list of all
of Elisofon's Life set numbers is housed at
the end of the series.
||Non-photographic materials in this series include tear sheets of published
stories, whole issues of periodicals, photo captions, correspondence, notes
by Elisofon or his daughter, background research material, such as reports
or scripts by Life story researchers, maps,
and photocopies of prints. Captions for prints are descriptive lists of the
photographs taken and sometimes are in narrative form. Photocopy and
original tear sheets are not differentiated in the folder list; however,
photocopies of prints are indicated as such.
||Series II. Film and Television Projects, 1953-1973, 1986 (4.5
||Elisofon's film and television projects, or those for which he served in a
technical capacity, are represented by correspondence, agreements, notes,
schedules, and similar material, and are arranged in chronological order.
Elisofon directed the prologue of the film Khartoum, and storyboard drawings, scripts, and correspondence
relating to that work are present in this series; in addition, Elisofon
photographed the making of the film, so that photographs of the film's
production are located in his photography files (Series I). Elisofon also
directed a portion of Man Builds: Ancient
Egypt, a film sponsored by the American Institute of Architects
for National Educational Television; correspondence, Elisofon's itinerary,
shooting sequences, and an award are present. Materials relating to the ABC
television documentary Africa include prints
and slides, agreements, correspondence, an itinerary, press releases, and
clippings. The television documentary series Black
African Heritage, which Elisofon wrote, produced, and directed,
is well represented in the collection by schedules, agreements,
correspondence, treatments, notes, research material, production budgets,
receipts, camera and sound reports, cutting notes, timing reports, releases,
royalty statements, and clippings.
||Notable among materials for projects that were never completed is a draft of
James Agee's screenplay Noa Noa, about the life of Gaugin.
||Elisofon served as a special color consultant as well as a still photographer
on the films Moulin Rouge, Bell, Book and Candle, and The Greatest Story Ever Told, and his
photographs and notes from those projects are located in his photography
files (Series I), along with other films for which he worked as a still
||Series III. Writings and Lectures, 1938-1973 (7.5 boxes)
||Material relating to Elisofon's numerous lectures, articles, and books is
divided into two subseries, both arranged chronologically. First, Elisofon's
articles and books are primarily represented by notes, drafts,
correspondence, agreements, royalty statements, and reviews. Elisofon's book
Color Photography is further represented
by proofs, advertisements and promotional information, and an interview
transcript. Among papers regarding The Nile
are a manuscript, layouts, and radio and television schedule. Original diary
entries, lists and proofs of illustrations and captions, and advertisements
for Java Diary are also present. Elisofon
kept a similar diary in India, Ceylon, and Taiwan; drafts of the unpublished
manuscript are present. Manuscripts for Elisofon's book of photographs of
the Indian temple Konarak, titled Erotic
Spirituality, include correspondence with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
about the possibility of publishing the book (it was ultimately published by
Macmillan), as well as captions, drafts, and jacket text. His contributions
to a children's book series on children of other countries include those for
Poland, Puerto Rico, and Zaire; unique items include layouts, jacket text,
and model releases.
||Books by other authors for which Elisofon provided photographs are located in
the photography files (Series I).
||The second subseries, relating to Elisofon's lectures and presentations to
universities, clubs, and museums, includes typescripts, clippings,
correspondence, newsletters, advertisements, press releases, invitations,
and programs. Among noteworthy lectures are Elisofon's early "History of Photography" lecture, with glass
slides he used in his presentation; his acceptance speech for an award given
to Margaret Bourke-White; and "Photography and
Art," the 1950 Trowbridge lecture at Yale University. Elisofon's
lectures accompanying showings of his documentary Black African Heritage and his presentations on behalf of
Life for its advertising clients are also
documented in the series.
||Series IV. Artwork, 1935-1969, undated (2.5 boxes)
||Elisofon was a noted painter, working primarily in watercolor, and his early
sketchbooks are present in the collection. In addition, photographs of some
of Elisofon's artwork are present, as are two slides of Elisofon's art
studio; these images are arranged chronologically following the sketchbooks.
Information regarding sales and donations of paintings may be found at the
end of the series. Additional material about Elisofon's art is located with
items relating to exhibitions (Series V).
||Series V. Exhibitions, 1936-1986 (2 boxes)
||Elisofon's photographs, paintings, and collection of primitive art were
exhibited throughout the United States and in other countries; those
exhibitions are represented chronologically by photographs and negatives,
schedules, lists of items exhibited, agreements, correspondence, clippings,
press releases, and catalogs.
||Of Elisofon's numerous exhibitions, several are particularly noteworthy due
to the extent or kind of material found about them in the collection. "Tunisian Triumph," an exhibition of
Elisofon's photographs taken in North Africa during World War II, toured to
eleven museums, including the Museum of Modern Art. Negatives and an
installation list are among other items from that show. "An American's View of the Nordic Countries"
was an exhibition of both photographs and watercolors that was shown in
Stockholm, Gothenberg, and Malmö. Its exhibit catalog and a list of
watercolors are present in the collection. Contact sheets, correspondence,
and text by Ralph Pomeroy provide information on an exhibition of
photographs and sculpture titled "Understanding
African Sculpture" organized by Elisofon at the Art Institute of
Chicago; that exhibition also circulated to other institutions, including
the Museum of Modern Art. A touring photo exhibition on "Nine Indian Temples" is represented by
prints, loan agreements, and captions by Joseph Campbell. Elisofon curated
an exhibition of "Masterpieces of Primitive
Art," displaying artifacts from Harvard's Peabody Museum and
other collections, and his correspondence, a typescript of the catalog text,
the catalog, and a transcript of the television program "Invitation to Art" represent that project.
"African Art of the Dogon: The Lester
Wunderman Collection," which used film, slides, and photographs
by Elisofon, was sponsored by the International Exhibitions Foundation and
toured to numerous cities throughout the United States. It is well
represented by correspondence, agreements, invoices, a list of photographs,
and catalog text, among other items. Photographs of "The Nile" were exhibited at numerous museums
from 1964 to 1967 under the sponsorship of the Smithsonian Traveling
Exhibition Services. Elisofon's watercolor paintings were particularly
well-received in Japan, where they were shown at the Gekkoso Gallery and
used as designs for postal cards and scarves. "Tribute to Africa" was a posthumous exhibition at the Museum of
African Art in 1974, and it featured Elisofon's photographs, slides, films,
||Series VI. Private Art Collection, 1939-1969, undated (1
||Elisofon collected artwork and sculpture wherever he traveled, and he
developed a significant collection of primitive art. He donated many pieces
to museums, particularly Harvard University's Peabody Museum and the Peabody
Museum of Salem, and he also sold some items. Files regarding donations and
sales include images of the art objects, receipts, lists of objects,
appraisals, and correspondence. Elisofon's photographs of objects from his
personal collection form the bulk of the series.
||Series VII. Food Files, 1943-1969, undated (.5 box)
||Elisofon's culinary interest is primarily represented by recipes he created
or gathered, and by menus he collected. Material regarding Elisofon's 1948
cookbook, Food Is a Four-Letter Word, is
located in Series III, along with other books by Elisofon.
||Series VIII. Correspondence, 1930-1973, undated (6 boxes)
||Most of Elisofon's correspondence is filed chronologically as "General Correspondence." Other correspondence
files include his memos containing story suggestions; requests and invoices
for copies of Elisofon's photographs, primarily for use in publications;
correspondence regarding reprints or sales by Life of Elisofon photographs; and correspondence and lists
regarding books sent to friends and relatives as gifts. Additional
correspondence concerning Elisofon's photography assignments has been
maintained in its original location within the photography files (Series I).
All correspondents in the archive are listed in the Index of
||Series IX. About Elisofon, 1930-1985, undated (5.5 boxes, 5 scrapbooks)
||Material about Elisofon is divided into five subseries. Interviews, articles,
and essays are represented in the first subseries by photographs,
correspondence, transcripts of radio and television interviews, clippings,
proofs, and obituaries. The second subseries consists of five scrapbooks
containing tear sheets, clippings, and memorabilia, primarily dating from
1937 to 1941. A scrapbook from Elisofon's work on the film Khartoum is also present. The third subseries
contains Elisofon's personal files; among these are files of addresses,
resumes, biographical information for Life,
medical papers, financial and other documents, Life staff policies and contracts, equipment lists, records of
awards and appointments, and files on the Peabody Museum and the Museum of
African Art, as well as organizations of which Elisofon was a member. The
fourth subseries comprises personal photographs, primarily of Elisofon;
these are arranged by decade and also include negatives and transparencies.
Photographs of Elisofon's apartments, showing his personal art collection,
are also present. The final subseries consists of periodicals collected by
Elisofon that did not contain his work. The majority of magazines are issues
of Life dating from 1936 to 1972, but also
present are copies of American Photographer,
Friday, and Signal, among other titles. These are arranged alphabetically
by title and chronologically within each title.
||Series X. Elin Elisofon, 1976-1988, undated (3.5 boxes)
||Elin Elisofon's work on her father's archive is reflected in the final series
of the collection. Her unpublished biography of Eliot Elisofon is
represented by proposals, synopses, research, and drafts; access to this
material requires permission from Elin Elisofon. Files from her work on an
exhibition of her father's work are also present. Her files about her
father's papers include exploration of potential ways to administer the
collection, with research on picture agencies and compact discs, as well as
correspondence about copyright and requests for use of photographs. Elin
Elisofon's fundraising efforts in support of the biography and the
exhibition are documented as well.