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Phiz Mezey Photographs and Papers
SFP 166  
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The collection includes approximately 6,402 prints and over 104,000 frames of various negative types by professional photographer Phiz Mezey of predominately of San Francisco from the early 1950s to the early 2000s. Subjects of the photography include Our San Francisco book images; San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Western Addition project; Something That’s Happening (STEP) book about desegregation of the Sausalito schools book images; notables (national and local): musicians, artists, authors, public figures, politicians; China (self-assigned project); Lacandon of Chiapas, Mexico; lifestyles 60s and 70s: hippies, street photography, nudes and civil rights actions; protests 1964 – 2004; historic San Francisco; nature: stories about Big Sur, marine mammals, Academy of Science; travel and general: photojournalism, portraits, Mexico.
Phiz Mezey (Phiz Mozzeson) was born on August 25, 1925 in Harlem, New York and raised in the Bronx. Mezey set out to be a journalist in her teens, when she began writing for Irish Echo, an Irish American weekly newspaper. During World War II, she was hired by the Office of War Information to write columns on labor and Asia. She received a BA from Reed College and moved to San Francisco in 1948 to pursue her career as a journalist. Upon arrival in San Francisco, Mezey worked in William Dassonville’s photo lab. She changed her medium to photography, largely teaching herself. She developed friendships she developed with the Bay Area photography community: Imogen Cunningham, Wynn Bullock, Ruth Bernhard, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and Minor White. She began teaching at San Francisco State College but was dismissed in 1950 when she refused to sign a loyalty oath. She and several other faculty resisters were blacklisted for more than 15 years, until the Loyalty Oath was ruled unconstitutional. In 1953, she wrote and recorded a documentary dramatization of the Rosenberg case called “They Must Not Die” with the San Francisco Labor Theatre. She freelanced and taught photography at San Francisco City College. In 1971 Mezey earned an MA and PhD at San Francisco State University and was reinstated in 1978 as faculty. She was promoted to full professor in 1981 and retired in 1990. Mezey started out as a photo-essayist but is most known for portraits, including of renown figures like Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, Jimi Hendrix, Rita Moreno and Ruth Asawa. Mezey took Leo McCarthy’s campaign photographs. She took an interest in Bay Area political events and conflicts, including the 1968-69 San Francisco State University student strike and the Auto Row protests in 1964, in which civil rights activists took on the Cadillac and other dealerships along San Francisco’s Auto Row who discriminated against Black customers. The California wilderness was another subject Mezey explored. Her images of Yosemite, Mono Lake, The High Sierras, Fort Point and other locations provide a view of California’s wilderness and the great outdoors. Mezey traveled extensively all over the globe, street shooting wherever she was. She created a comprehensive visual document China in 1989. Her photographic record of Mexico spans many geographic areas during the late 1980s. Mezey authored books including: Something That’s Happening (1968) about the desegregation of the Sausalito School District and Multi-Image Design and Production (1988), a textbook. She received grants from the San Francisco Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a freelance journalist, her work was published in journals such as the Nation, the New Republic, the New York Times, Time and Aperture. Her images were exhibited in institutions and museums worldwide, including the De Young Museum and SF MOMA. Her last solo exhibition was at the San Francisco Public Library in 2013. Phiz Mezey died on May 10, 2020.
16 cartons, 16 flat boxes and 9 oversize cartons
San Francisco Public Library holds copyright to the majority of the Phiz Mezey photographs. The heirs manage rights to some. All requests for permission to publish from photographs must be submitted in writing to the Photo Curator. Permission for publication is given with San Francisco Public Library as the copyright holder.
The collection is partially processed and available for use during Photo Desk hours. Series 1: Photographs is PROCESSED and open for research. Series 2: Papers is UNPROCESSED and you must contact the Photo Curator for access.