UC Santa Cruz just received the largest donation in campus history. The $32 million collection from the Marin Community Foundation of 12,000 photographic prints, 25,000 negatives and thousands of transparencies from renowned photographers Pirkle Jones and his wife Ruth-Marion Baruch.
The photographs encapsulate the grit and turmoil of California during the mid-20th century and include an examination of migrant workers, a changing environmental landscape and an intimate portrayal of the Black Panther movement in Oakland.
“These images tell the story of California at a time of tremendous social change. The collection is an extraordinary resource for scholars, students and ultimately the public,” said Chancellor George Blumenthal in the university’s announcement regarding the donation. “[Jones] was a free spirit, a pioneer of photography.”
The vast majority of their work will now be owned by the university. The collection was donated by the Marin Community Foundation because of Jones’ relationship with the campus which was first established when he taught a public photography workshop with Ansel Adams in 1969.
Elisabeth Remak-Honnef, the head of Special Collections and Archives, hopes to loan the art to public museums, and has currently loaned stills of the Black Panther movement from their own smaller collection Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch gave to UCSC in 2003 to the Oakland Museum of California.
“I didn’t charge [the museum] anything,” Remak-Honnef said. “The Oakland museum is a large public museum, and Oakland has a very large African-American community — I feel like if we aren’t going to help out with the Black Panther photos there, what’s the point, right?”
The entire collection will now be stored at the McHenry Library’s Special Collections, with some images currently framed on display at Special Collections.
Because of the vast amounts of pieces in the collection, Remak-Honnef estimates it will take two years to archive to catalogue everything. A project archivist has been chosen to go through it, and grad students will assist them.
“[In the photos there] is a strong emphasis of social and political justice, on environmental justice, which seems to match up very well with what people care about on this campus,” Remak-Honnef said. “So I feel like this is a very good home for them.”