Prentice Herman Polk photograph collection
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Prentice Herman Polk photograph collection

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Auburn Avenue Research Library
Title: Prentice Herman Polk photograph collection
Dates: 1930-1940?
Quantity: 1.0 videocassettes
Abstract:The Prentice Herman Polk photograph collection consists of 70 photographs taken mostly in the 1930s and 1940s and a videotape of a television program about Polk and includes photographs taken by Polk of an exhibit of his photographs, images of George Washington Carver, pictures of famous individuals who visited Tuskegee, and examples of his photographs of students, faculty, and events at Tuskegee Institute. Individuals featured in the collection include Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Douglass Patterson, George Lake Imes, Lena Horne, Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles Alfred Anderson, William L. Dawson, Pearl Buck, W. C. Handy, Henry Baker, George Moore, Elaine F. Thomas, Mr. and Mrs. T. M. Campbell and family, Charles Turner, and the Booker T. Washington family.
Identification: aarl96-014

Biographical/Historical Note

Prentice Herman Polk was born in 1898 of working class people in Bessemer, Alabama. He was the youngest of four children and the only son. Polk was eleven when his father died, and thirteen when his mother sent him to a subsidized boarding school in Birmingham, Alabama. From there he was enrolled at the Tuskegee Normal and Technical School.

P. H. Polk wanted to be a painter but at that time Tuskegee did not offer a program in the fine arts. When a photography instructor named C. M. Battey asked for students with an artistic temperament to come see him, Polk arrived in the teacher's office with drawings in hand. Polk spent three years at Tuskegee under the tutelage of C. M. Battey. Polk then dropped out of school and moved to Chickasaw, Alabama where he worked in the shipyards, enrolled in a correspondence course in photography, and married Margaret Blanche Thompson. He and his wife moved to Chicago in the early 1920s, and he apprenticed himself to the commercial white photographer, Fred Jensen.

In 1927 Polk returned to Tuskegee with his first wife and the first of nine children. He became photography instructor at Tuskegee Institute the next year and quickly progressed to head of the photography department. In 1938 Polk moved to Atlanta, Georgia and opened his own portrait studio at 859 Hunter Street. The Atlanta business lasted only a year, and in 1939 Polk accepted the position of official photographer of Tuskegee Institute. He remained at Tuskegee for forty-five years in this capacity.

Scope and Content Note

The Prentice Herman Polk Photograph Collection consists of over sixty (60) photographs taken mostly in the 1930s and 1940s. Three of the photographs are of P. H. Polk at an exhibit of his photographs. The remaining photographs are the work of Prentice Herman Polk and are representative of the different types of photographs he took. Twenty-seven (27) of the photographs are of George Washington Carver. George Washington Carver was a favorite subject of P.H. Polk, and photographs of Dr. Carver constitute a substantial and distinguished body of his work. In addition to George Washington Carver, Polk photographed numerous famous individuals who visited Tuskegee. Included in the collection are photographs of Henry Ford, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, W. C. Handy, Lena Horne, and Pearl Buck. Also in the collection are examples of his photographs of faculty, students, and events at Tuskegee Institute which he took as the school's official photographer.

His primary body of work in terms of volume is the commercial studio portraiture. In addition to these commercial portraits, Polk's studio work includes uncommissioned portraits in which Polk paid local Alabama people to sit for him. Examples of these within the collection include the portraits of Henry Baker, George Moore, and the unidentified woman whose photograph is titled "The Boss". The collection also contains examples of the on-site photographs of working class blacks in the rural South that were done on assignment from a labor organization in the 1930s. The uncomissioned portraits and the photographs of life in rural Alabama are considered some of his most important works.

In addition to the photographs the collection contains a videotape of a television program which highlights the life and work of P. H. Polk. The program contains numerous segments in which P. H. Polk is interviewed.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Item, Prentice Herman Polk Photograph collection, Archives Division, Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.


Restrictions on Use

There are no restrictions on research use of this collection.

Copyright Restrictions

Prior permission from the Research Library must be obtained in writing before any portion of this collection can be published or reproduced.

Container List




11Prentice Herman Polk at reception for exhibit (3 photographs)
2Souvenir photographs of George Washington Carver (Twelve 12)
3George Washington Carver
4George Washington Carver in academic regalia receiving degree
5George Washington Carver receiving award
6George Washington Carver in academic regalia
7George Washington Carver painting (2 photographs)
8George Washington Carver standing in front of his paintings
9George Washington Carver walking in a field
10George Washington Carver and Henry Ford
11George Washington Carver in the laboratory
12George Washington Carver and President Franklin D. Roosevelt
13George Washington Carver with an unidentified child
14George Washington Carver in a greenhouse
15George Washington Carver and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Douglass Patterson
16George Washington Carver and George Lake Imes
17George Washington Carver standing at a table with bottles of various products
18Mycological drawing by George Washington Carver
19Lena Horne and Tuskegee Airmen
20Graduation ceremony of Tuskegee Airmen
21Eleanor Roosevelt and Chief Alfred Anderson in an airplane
22William L. Dawson and five (5) unidentified men at Tuskegee Institute
23John Andrews Hospital at Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama
24The Tuskegee Institute women's basketball team the "Tuskegee Tigers"
25The Tuskegee Institute Band
26Graduating nurses at Tuskegee Institute march to chapel, ca. 1930s
27Women performing traditional agricultural and domestic chores
28Pearl Buck and Mrs. Frederick Douglass Patterson
29Pearl Buck and unidentified male
30Unidentified administrator at Tuskegee Institute (portrait)
31William L. Dawson, Tuskegee Institute Choir Director (portrait)
32Unidentified female (portrait)
33W. C. Handy (portrait)
34Unidentified female (portrait)
35Unidentified female (portrait), photograph titled "The Boss"
36Unidentified male (portrait)
37Henry Baker (portrait)
38Unidentified male (portrait)
39George Moore (portrait)
40Unidentified girl (portrait)
41Elaine F. Thomas and three (3) unidentified individuals at Tuskegee Institute
42Group of unidentified men and a girl
43Mr. and Mrs. T M. Campbell and family
44Charles Turner in a field farming in rural Alabama
45Charles Tuner, an Alabama farmer, hitching equipment up to a cow
46Two unidentified workers picking cotton in Moline, Alabama; titled "Cotton Harvest"
47Unidentified women cooking on an outside stove in Macon County, Alabama
48An unidentified man and woman work at a spinning wheel in from of a log cabin in rural Alabama; titled "Spinning Wheel"
49An unidentified elderly man driving a wagon pulled by cattle (2 photographs)
50Photograph of the Chancel Windows at Tuskegee Institute
51Booker T .Washington Monument (3 photographs)
52Unidentified mother and child
53Booker T. Washington Family
54Henry Baker (portrait)
55Unidentified female playing the harp
56Videotape of a television program entitled "P. H. Polk: The Man and his Pictures"
Chancel Windows at Tuskegee Institute (2 oversize photographs)