Pirkle Jones

Pirkle Jones (January 2, 1914 March 15, 2009)[1][2] was a documentary photographer born in Shreveport, Louisiana. His first experience with photography was when he bought a Kodak Brownie at the age of seventeen. In the 1930s, his photographs were featured in pictorialist salons and publications. He served four years in the army during World War II in the 37th division and went to the Fiji Islands, New Georgia, Guadalcanal, and the Philippines.

After the war, Jones 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.[3] 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, California in the Berryessa Valley, which disappeared when the Monticello Dam was completed. The photographs were taken in the last year of its existence. Jones later described the project with Lange as "one of the most meaningful photographic experiences of [his] life".

Jones also took part in numerous collaborations with his wife, Ruth-Marion Baruch, over the course of their 49-year marriage. In 1968, Ruth-Marion introduced herself to Kathleen Cleaver, wife of famous Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, and spoke of her interest in the Black Panthers and their portrayal by the media. It was her desire to present a balanced view that inspired Jones and Ruth-Marion to photograph the Panthers from July to October 1968 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Jones was the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute, where he taught until 1994.


  1. Grimes, William (March 23, 2009). "Pirkle Jones, Documentary Photographer, Dies at 95". The New York Times. Retrieved March 23, 2009.
  2. Woo, Elaine (March 23, 2009). "Pirkle Jones, California photographer, dies at 95". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 24, 2009.
  3. Comer, Stephanie; Klochko, Deborah; Gunderson, Jeff (2006). The Moment of Seeing. San Francisco: Chronicle Books LLC. pp. 22–66. ISBN 978-0-8118-5468-9.

Further reading

  • 100 Years of Mechanics' Institute of San Francisco, 1855-1955. Mechanics Institute. 1955.
  • Baruch, Ruth-Marion (1990). The Vanguard: A Photographic Essay on the Black Panthers. Beacon Press. ISBN 0807005525.
  • Jones, Pirkle (1 November 2001). Pirkle Jones: California Photographs, 1935-1982. Aperture. ISBN 978-0-89381-949-1.
  • Baruch, Ruth-Marion; Jones, Pirkle (2 September 2002). Black Panthers 1968. Greybull Press. ISBN 978-0-9672366-9-8.
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