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Prentice Herman Polk photograph collection

Identifier: aarl96-014

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.


  • 1930-1940?

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.

Historical Sketch

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.


1.0 videocassettes




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.
Inventory of the Prentice Herman Polk Photograph Collection aarl96-014 aarl96-014
Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History
2004 September 15
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History Repository

101 Auburn Avenue NE
Atlanta GA 30303