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Fine Arts Library Acquires Powell Photo Archives

Photographer and ethnographer Josephine Powell spent years traveling through North Africa and the Middle East, documenting local architecture, textiles, nomadic life, and village culture. This month, Powell's unique collection of photo negatives and contact sheets became a part of the Harvard College Library's collection to be housed at the Fine Arts Library (FAL).

Born in New York early in the 20th century, Powell received a degree from the Columbia School of Social Work. She worked with war refugees in Tanzania, and then moved to Rome, where she began her career as an architectural photographer. Her photographs, taken over a period of four decades, have appeared in many standard texts. Commissioned by David Talbot Rice, she went to Istanbul to photograph Byzantine mosaics. From there, her fascination with Middle Eastern architecture and culture grew and led to subsequent photographic expeditions through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. With the recent social and political changes taking place in that portion of the world, Powell's documentation of these areas has become increasingly important.

"Her work documents art and architecture which, in many cases, no longer exists because of theft and destruction during political conflicts and wars. Josephine Powell's work is an important source of scholarship and Harvard is fortunate to be the steward of it," said Jeffrey Horrell, associate librarian of Harvard College for collections.

In the early 1960s, her interest in Anatolian nomadic culture led her to make Istanbul her home. In addition to her professional work, she developed an extraordinary body of images (mainly 35mm color slides) documenting the nomadic weaving arts. These slides will form part of the proposed Center of Anatolian Ethnography and Textile Studies in Instanbul.

During the course of Powell's career, the Fine Arts Library regularly acquired photographs from her catalogs. In 1996, Powell came to the University to lecture and to assess the library as a potential home for her collection. In January of this year, Martha Mahard, FAL's curator of historical photographs and special visual collections, and her curatorial assistant, Joanne Bloom, met Powell in her Rome office. They helped Powell to finish identifying and inventorying the contents and oversaw the preparation of the collection for transfer to Cambridge. The Powell archive will be available for users by 2003.

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Last modified on Thursday, April 18, 2002.