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Ellie Lee Weems photographs series

Identifier: aarl89-014

Scope and Content Note

Mr. Weems was called on-site to photograph group activities and events which, when listed with his studio work, create the relative categories by which the Collection is defined and ordered: Awards and Honorings; business and commercial personalities and establishments; church and civic groups; entertainers and celebrities; families; funerals; graduation exercises and cap and gown cameos; landscapes; masonic orders and related auxiliaries; performing arts; portraits of children, men and women; professional training at the Winona School of Photography; schools; and others. The titles and listings of these categories are given in the "Photographs Collection" Finding Aid.

These photographs form a very special segment of the larger Weems Photographic Negative Collection, as they are the original Weems photographs accompanying the Collection at the time of purchase by the Auburn Avenue Research Library. Many of these photographs bear Mr. Weems' handwriting and identification notes on the back.

The Weems "Photographs Collection" reflects the personal and community-wide history of Jacksonville in the several processing techniques mastered by the photographer: "Black and White" photographs; "Color Hand-tinted" photographs; "Sepia Tinted" photographs; "Kodak Color Prints" made possible by Kodak color processing on Kodak paper in the 1960's. The Collection contains five photographs, distinctive from the other photographs, which have been isolated for research. There are two pieces of correspondence and an envelope that has Mr. Weems' handwriting.

The body of the Collection is found in the Black and White photographs. In a few instances, the Collection contains both the Black and White photograph and the Color Hand-tinted photograph of the same subject, actually the same photograph. These are grouped respectively with the Black and White or Color Hand-tinted photographs. By these we see a demonstration of the photographer's experimentation with color and his artistic talent. These are forerunners to the color prints that would be made possible in the last decades of his career by Kodak processing. The Sepia Tinted photographs are beautiful and evenly tinted. This processing in earth tones was very popular, and reflects beautifully the varying color of the African American subjects. The Color Hand-tinted and Sepia Tinted processes are developed to a high degree, and enhance the finished product for all the ethnic groups photographed in this Collection. There are only a few Color Prints in the Collection.

The "Five Photographs", isolated for research, are each distinctive from the other, and as a group, to be distinguished from the other photographs of the Collection. The settings, poses, in the studio and on-site, are unique in the Collection. The dress of the subjects may indicate earlier years than the other decades of photographs. These five Black and White photographs show less depth of tone. They may represent photographic restorative work and photograph repair.

In keeping with provenance, the Collection retains the two items of Correspondence referencing work done by Mr. Weems. The Correspondence speaks to the great affection that his clients felt for him. An envelope included in the Collection is inscribed in the photographer's handwriting with the name of a group and an identification number for a corresponding photographic negative.

The Weems "Photographs Collection" is representative of the 59 years of Mr. Weems' professional career, with photographs actually spanning 57 of those years, from 1928-1975. The 461 photographs of this Collection give the public access to the accomplished, sensitive work of Ellie Weems.


  • 1928-1975


Restrictions of Access

There are no restrictions on the research use of this collection.

Restrictions on Use

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

Historical Sketch

Ellie Lee Weems is a "native son" to both Georgia and Florida. He was born in McDonough, Georgia in 1901. After his studies with well known African American photographer, C. M. Battey, at Tuskegee Institute, Mr. Weems lived in Atlanta, Georgia from 1922 until 1929. He married Willie Mae Morris in 1925. After an apprenticeship with an Atlanta photographer, Weems established his professional career on Auburn Avenue, and became a partner of the Paul Poole photography studio in 1928. These years form the Alpha of his life, contributing to the Georgia legacy in African American photography. The Omega of his life takes place again in Georgia, completing a cycle that embraces 50 years devoted to photographing the Jacksonville, Florida community.

Accompanied by his wife, an outstanding senior public health nurse in Jacksonville, Weems returned to Georgia to spend the last years of his life in the care of his nephew and niece, Mr. George and Mrs. Edna Rice, whose family is of Jacksonville. In apprenticeship to his uncle in Jacksonville, Mr. Rice acquired a trade that would allow him, in addition to teaching, to serve several High Schools in Atlanta, as the official Year Book photographer. Mr. Weems' collection of photonegatives (negative film and glass plates), photographs and client file cards were brought with him, and his nephew prepared himself to devote the rest of his life to the processing.

Mr. Weems established himself as an integral part of every occasion and event, a documenter of the moments the Jacksonville African American community and other community members wanted to remember-to cherish. The Weems Jacksonville photography studio is the setting for many of the 461 photographs in the Auburn Avenue Research Library Archives Collection.

Mr. Ellie Lee Weems is well remembered as professional, kind, gentlemanly, well-liked and revered. His work documents a great community with ties to educational and business institutions still existing today throughout the Southeast and other regions of the United States. One of the largest collections accessible to the public, cohesively documenting an African American community, Weems records, for over five decades, the generations of Jacksonville citizens. Other ethnic groups can also find representation in the work of Ellie Weems. They enjoyed the professional environment of Mr. Weems' studio, the on-site documentation of civic groups, or are among the professional models of the Winona School of Photography.

Citizens of Jacksonville remind us that Mr. Weems was always there, at every mark of history for the people and their community. The dignity and deep sacredness of the spirit of the people surface in these photographs to illuminate and illustrate the times, the growth of the community during the depression, the transitions from World War II to the challenged times that produced an integrated society in the deep south-marks of history of interest to our region, our nation, our world.


461.0 photographs.




The photographs series contains photographs taken in Jacksonville, Fla. by Ellie Lee Weems, an African American photographer, from the years 1928 through 1975 with subjects including awards and honors; business and commercial personalities and establishments; church and civic groups; entertainers and celebrities; families; funerals; graduation exercises and cap and gown cameos; landscapes; Masonic orders and related auxiliaries; performing arts; portraits of children, women, and men; professional training; and schools. The series also contains some correspondence, an envelope, and five photographs reserved for research. Five photographic contact sheets from reproduced from photonegatives in the collection were donated by the Smithsonian Institution's Center for African American History and Culture in gratitude for the Auburn Avenue Research Library's contribution to an exhibit on African American photographers and their documentation of African American families and life.


Organized into six subseries:
  1. (1) Black and white photographs
  2. (2) Color hand-tinted photographs
  3. (3) Sepia tinted photographs
  4. (4) Color prints
  5. (5) Other items
  6. (6) Contact sheets


The "Photographs Collection" of the Weems Photographic Negative Collection is defined under the accession number 89-014, having been purchased in 1989, and being the 14th collection acquired in that year. There are 9 Hollinger Boxes in this Collection. The folders organized in each Hollinger Box by category are numbered consecutively following the box number in the accession number (Ex. 80-014-01.020). Within their respective categories, the 461 photographs are placed three (3) to a folder as a rule, and four (4) or two (2) to a folder to complete the category. The photographs of this Collection are a unique segment of the Weems Photographic Negative Collection, and are to be distinguished from the photographs that will be developed from the photonegatives. These are the photographs kept together by provenance.

The "Photographs Collection" is organized by the natural groupings of activities and events into categories. Titles have been assigned and subtitles given to identify or classify the different events and activities in the major title categories. "On-site" listings in the Finding Aid refer to activities, photographed outside of the studio setting, where the setting cannot be readily identified. "Studio" refers to subjects photographed in Mr. Weems' studio. "On-site" and "Studio" serve as major headings under which many activities photographed are listed by subtitle.

Black and White photographs represent the greatest number of photographs in the Collection. The "Color Hand-Tinted" and "Sepia Tinted" photographs are listed as separate categories, organized by the same system of the larger body of the Collection, and grouped after the body of the Collection in Black and White photographs. The "Color Prints" are organized in the last box of the Collection with the "Five Photographs" for research and the "Correspondence", as these are elements which contain only a few items unique to the Collection.

Processing Information

Processed by Dr. Constance J. Carter.
Inventory of the Ellie Lee Weems Photographs Series aarl89-014 aarl89-014
Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History
2004 September 21
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