For the next few weeks I will be looking at some photographers I had plucked from a recent library book find on understanding photographs. Some of the names spotted I have already written about, whilst others I had never heard of! Today’s photographer Pirkle Jones was just one of those unknowns. I apologize to anyone following this blog for the sudden change in posting time: I have moved to the Netherlands a few days ago due to personal circumstances so my Friday morning 8:30 now comes a little later than it did before!
Pirkle Jones was born on the 2nd of January 1914 in Shreveport, Louisiana. His first experience with photography was when he purchased a Kodak Brownie at the age of seventeen. In the 30’s his photographs were featured in pictorialist salons and publications. He served four years in the army during World War II in the 37th division at Fiji Islands, New Georgia, Guadalcanal and the Philippines.
After the war Pirkle entered the first class in photography offered by the California School of Fine Arts. There he met the artists and instructors that helped him develop his talents: Ansel Adams, Minor White, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange. Jones worked as Ansel Adams’ assistant for 6 years and the two photographers forged a lifelong friendship. Dorothea Lange came to him in 1956 with an idea to collaborate on a photographic essay entitled “Death of a Valley”. The essay chronicled the death of the town of Monticello in the Berryessa Valley which disappeared when the Monticello Dam was completed. The photographs were taken in the last year of the valley. Jones later described the project with Lange as “one of the most meaningful photographic experiences of my life.”
Pirkle also took part in numerous collaborations with his late wife Ruth-Marion Baruch, over the course of their 49 year marriage, amongst which their famous 1968 portrayal of the Black Panthers in the San Fransisco Bay Area.
He was the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute where he taught until 1994. Pirkle Jones passed away on the 15th of March, 209 at the age of 95.
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