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Finding aid for the Charles Brittin papers, 1914-2009 (bulk 1950-1979)
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical / Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Archival Materials
  • Separated Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Charles Brittin papers
    Date (inclusive): 1914-2009 (bulk 1950-1979)
    Number: 2005.M.11
    Creator/Collector: Brittin, Charles, 1928-2011
    Physical Description: 93.0 linear feet (136 boxes, 9 flatfile folders, 1 roll)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: The papers of photographer Charles Brittin contain photographs, negatives, slides and transparencies documenting the Los Angeles art scene and social and political movements that occurred during the 1950s-1970s. Accompanying the photographs are correspondence, personal writings, printed ephemera, posters, maquettes, clippings, and publications. The archive also includes works of art by Brittin and other artists such as Bob Alexander, Wallace Berman and George Herms.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English.

    Biographical / Historical Note

    American photographer and artist Charles Brittin came to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s through his associations with the Los Angeles artists Wallace Berman and George Herms. Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Brittin relocated with his mother to the Fairfax district of Los Angeles in 1944, following the death of his father. After studying film and photography at UCLA, he settled in Venice, California, and began capturing images of the rapidly changing landscape. Employed variously as a tour guide at ABC, a darkroom assistant and a mail carrier, Brittin also managed to capture images of the entertainment world, such as Orson Welles's transformation of a Venice neighborhood into a set for his movie A Touch of Evil.
    After meeting Berman, Brittin began photographing him and his circle of underground artists, actors, writers and musicians. During this period, Brittin also began creating works of art himself, and helped produce three of the nine issues of Berman's now rare periodical, Semina. Brittin's skill at photographing the artistic moment continued to develop as he captured images of events and no longer extant artistic locations in Los Angeles, such as the ephemeral Artists' Tower of Protest and the innovative Ferus Gallery co-founded by Berman and Walter Hopps. It was Brittin who photographed the now-infamous police bust at the Ferus Gallery in 1957.
    Throughout his career, Brittin was a political activist. During the early 1960s and 1970s, he became involved in the civil rights movement and began photographing the social protests that characterized the time. He documented his experiences canvassing neighborhoods with the equal rights group Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). His devotion to political activism and civil rights issues continued to grow as he also photographed feminist and labor demonstrations as well as numerous protests against the Vietnam War. Brittin documented many Los Angeles area clashes between police and protesters and eventually became involved with the Black Panther Party. The struggles of this movement are among the most dramatic subjects of his photographic art.
    Brittin continued with both artistic and sociopolitical photography well into the 1970s. His work has been shown in several solo exhibitions and nearly twenty group exhibitions. His images have also been used in numerous books on the dissident sixties and the Beat scene in Los Angeles. Charles Brittin died of pneumonia in January 2011.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Charles Brittin photographs and papers, 1914-2009 (bulk 1950-1979), The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2005.M.11

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired from Charles Brittin in 2005.

    Processing History

    Sheila Prospero initially rehoused and processed the archive in 2005 with a preliminary inventory list. In 2010 she further processed the materials and created a finding aid under the supervision of Andra Darlington.
    In 2012, additional materials were received from Brittin's estate and integrated into the archive by Sheila Prospero. These materials can be found in box 83-134* and flatfile folder 8**-9**.

    Related Archival Materials

    See also the Charles Brittin oral history (2008.M.34)  for a recorded interview of Brittin discussing the archive.

    Separated Materials

    45 monographs and 54 serials were transferred to the library. These publications may be found by searching the Library Catalog  for the Charles Brittin Collection.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The archive comprises 92 linear feet of visual and printed material featuring much of Brittin's artistically and historically important photographic work. Included are vintage black and white photographs, negatives, slides, contact sheets, and modern prints documenting both the Los Angeles art scene and social and political movements from the 1950s to the 1970s.
    The artist files in Series I form the bulk of the archive and contain photographs of underground Los Angeles artists, namely Wallace Berman and his Ferus Gallery coterie, including Bob Alexander, George Herms, Walter Hopps, Artie Richer, John Altoon, Zack and Beverly Walsh, John Reed and Dean Stockwell. The series also includes 1950s- and 1960s-era images of performance artists, poets and photographers such as Instant Theater's Rachel Rosenthal, poets Kenneth Patchen and Michael McClure, and photographer Edmund Teske, as well as images of musicians, musical venues, and performances in Los Angeles. In addition to photographs, the series contains various mail art, printed ephemera, collage and assemblage work created by many of these artists, including Brittin himself. Related papers, publications and posters also accompany some of the files.
    Also in this series are museum and gallery files on the Los Angeles art scene, particularly Brittin's collection of photographs and papers of the Ferus and Semina galleries. Included in these files are photographs of art and exhibitions, including Berman's first show as well as casual shots of artists at the Ferus alley. (For photographs of Wallace Berman's arrest at the Ferus Gallery and subsequent trial, see Berman files in Series I.A.) The series also contains a variety of exhibition ephemera and posters for artists who exhibited at the Ferus Gallery, such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Josef Albers.
    Berman's move to Larkspur, California as result of his arrest at the Ferus Gallery led to the creation of the Semina Gallery, where Brittin had his first exhibition of photographic works. Series I contains Brittin's documentation of this one-day exhibition and also includes images of the Berman family's home as well as other papers related to Berman's Semina issues. Other personal works by Brittin featured prominently in Series I are his photographs of sites in old Los Angeles and Venice that are no longer extant.
    Brittin's documentation of the civil rights movement and other political demonstrations and events are grouped into five sections in Series II: civil rights, feminism, labor protests, Vietnam War protests and politics. A large portion of the civil rights category is photographs of CORE marches addressing topics such as police brutality, education, housing and job discrimination. Demonstrations by other groups including the Non-Violent Action Committee (N-VAC) and United Civil Rights Council (UCRC) are also in this section. A small portion of Series II comprises photos, papers and publications on feminist and Chicano and labor demonstrations.
    A significant amount of anti-war material is included in Series II. From 1965-1975, Brittin captured numerous protest demonstrations against the Vietnam War, namely the 1967 protests at Century City and The Artists' Tower of Protest project -- a three-month art installation which served as a platform for artists' opposition to the war (see Series I.A.). Brittin also documented various political protests and events organized by groups such as the Black Panther Party, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP). Accompanying both the anti-war and political photographs are various related publications, posters, ephemera, correspondence, clippings and other papers. Aside from his photographic works, Brittin also designed graphics that were used as posters, flyers or invitations for social and political demonstrations.
    Brittin's interest in revolutionary movements is further shown by the archive's collection of vintage and reprinted political posters that are also in Series II. Accompanying these posters are various Communist and Socialist publications and ephemera as well as papers on political film centers such as the Los Angeles Newsreel.
    More of Brittin's counterculture material can be found within his collections in Series III. This section is comprised mostly of Brittin's erotica collection and includes papers, publications and commercial photographs as well as Brittin's own work. Also featured is a small group of advertisements and pamphlets on health, drugs, and spiritual movements. Among other collections in this series are Brittin's theater/film papers, film stills and ephemera, including his membership in the Hollywood Film Society and materials on Orson Welles.
    Series IV contains images of Brittin's personal life from the 1950s to his later years. The series contains photographs of family and friends including many portraits of women, travels with his wife Barbara, and scenes of everyday life. Included are both black-and-white and color prints, Polaroids, contact sheets, negatives and slides.
    Lastly, Series V comprises a small number of miscellaneous and unidentified items found in the archive. Included are papers such as exhibition ephemera and assorted clippings, artworks by unidentified artists, posters and publications. Another portion of the series features Brittin's personal belongings such as photography accessories, music CDs, a bracelet and pen nibs.
    In 2012, additional materials were received from Brittin's estate and integrated into the archive. These materials can be found in box 83-134* and flatfile folder 8**-9**.


    Arranged in five series: Series I. Los Angeles art scene, circa 1939-2009 (bulk 1950-1979); Series II. Political movements and protests, 1926-2004 (bulk 1960-1979); Series III. Collections, 1937-2005 (bulk 1960s), undated; Series IV. Personal photographs, 1950s-2000s; Series V. Miscellaneous items, 1914, 1943-2005, undated, undated.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Alexander, Bob
    Altoon, John, 1925-1969
    Berman, Wallace, 1926-1976
    Herms, George, 1935-
    Hopps, Walter

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    Black Panther Party
    Congress of Racial Equality
    Ferus Gallery (Los Angeles, Calif.)
    Semina Art Gallery

    Subjects - Topics

    Art, American--California--Los Angeles--20th century
    Artists--California--Los Angeles
    Civil rights demonstrations--California--History--20th century
    Civil rights demonstrations--United States--History--20th century
    Social movements--California--History--20th century
    Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements--California

    Subjects - Places

    Los Angeles (Calif.)--History--20th century--Pictorial works
    Venice (Los Angeles, Calif.)--History--20th century--Pictorial works

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Black-and-white negatives--20th century
    Collages (visual works)--20th century
    Drawings (visual works)--20th century
    Ephemera--20th century
    Erotica--20th century
    Mail art--20th century
    Photographic prints--20th century
    Photographic prints--California--20th century
    Photographs, Original
    Posters--20th century


    Alexander, Bob
    Berman, Wallace, 1926-1976
    Herms, George, 1935-