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Katherine Young (1909-1993)

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Biographical Essay


Katherine Young (1906-1993) embraced several aspects of photography during her long career as a photographer--she exhibited extensively, taught others to make photographs, published her work in newspapers, and operated a photo news service.

In addition to the photographs she deposited for copyright over the years, Katherine donated a selection of her archive to the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, in 1985 and dedicated the rights to the public. Approximately 170 photographic prints are available in "Portraits of prominent men in art, law, politics, and government," 1940-70 (LOT 13309) and another 39 large-format prints in "Exhibition photographs depicting prominent men in art, law, politics, and government," 1940-65 (LOT 13310). Her copyright deposit photographs can be found in the Biographical and Presidential Files, also in the Prints & Photographs Division. She published these portraits in the news media and also made exhibition quality prints.

Early Life

Katherine was born December 11, 1906. She began as a writer and studied art in France, although no travel records have been found that provide the dates. She probably lived in New York in about 1932, because she wrote a small book (title unknown) of her impressions of Greenwich Village and Beekman Place in 1932 and in 1938, but no copy seems to have survived.

Portraits of Power

Katherine described her portrait style as "chiaroscuro" in which she used strong directional lighting to highlight the sitter's most important features while leaving the remainder in velvety blackness, a style she felt retained a painter's point of view. She became well enough known to photograph several presidents, including Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon.

By 1941, Katherine was established in her profession as a portrait photographer and she exhibited a show at the Architectural League in New York City. In 1949, she exhibited photographic portraits at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In 1951, she exhibited portraits of prominent members of the United Nations at the Raleigh Hotel in Washington, D.C., and spoke about them on television. In 1953, her exhibition "Men of Our Times" was displayed at the Shoreham Hotel also in Washington, D.C. She also exhibited her photographs in cities along the eastern seaboard.

In 1953, Katherine taught a class in New York City in photographic portraiture to professionals and amateurs at 128 East Twenty-Eighth Street. She also displayed her portraits at the Village Camera Club, the East River Savings Bank in Manhattan, and participated in a group show at the Museum of Modern Art titled "Through the Lens" with Berenice Abbott, Roy DeCarava, Helen Levitt, and Todd Webb, among others.

Katherine held several exhibits at Caravan House, a Baha'i Center at 132 East 65th Street, including the show "Through the Lens" there, also in 1953. In August of that year, she returned to New York from England. In 1956, she exhibited photographic portraits at the Kodak Center Exhibit on the balcony of Grand Central Terminal. One reference to her work by master photographer Berenice Abbott was, however, not flattering.1

Through various photo agencies, Katherine sold photographs of prominent architects, diplomats, and political leaders from the 1940s until the 1980s for use in magazines and newspapers.

Portraits of Places

After World War II, many people were eager to see the countries they had read about in the newspapers. Commercial airline travel expanded and cruises were highly sought after. Travelers naturally wanted to make photographs. Katherine carved out a second career conducting extended photographic tours for American Express and Caravan House. In April 1954, she led a 56-day tour of Europe for the travel bureau of American Express. In January 1957, she led a 75-day tour for American Express for professional and amateur photographers to 14 countries including Greece, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Thailand and Japan. In 1960, she led a 36-day tour of Europe, again for American Express. In 1969, she held a photographic exhibit "Spain, Sunshine, and History" at Caravan House in New York. In 1969, she also returned to the Kodak Center to exhibit portraits of nationally and internationally prominent persons and images made during her travels in Spain.

Along with many of the most notable photographers of the era, she taught courses for American Express, Caravan House, and the New School for Social Research occasionally from the 1950s through the early 1970s.

Later Years

Manhattan offered Katherine many opportunities for involvement in photography. In her later years, she operated a news photo service at 140 East 40th Street. She died in Manhattan on February 3, 1993.


1Irene Schwachman diary, relaying conversation with Berencie Abbot: "On drive home talked of Katherine Young and Caravan House, which is a Bahai Center. Young a wealthy woman not a good photog." In: Irene Shwachman Papers. Center for Creative Photography.

Prepared by: Beverly W. Brannan, Curator of Photography, Prints & Photographs Division, 2011.

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  March 25, 2022
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