Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding aid for the Paul Outerbridge papers, 1915-1979 (bulk 1922-1958)
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (140.82 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Paul Outerbridge papers
    Date (inclusive): 1915-1979 (bulk 1922-1958)
    Number: 870520
    Creator/Collector: Outerbridge, Paul
    Physical Description: 16.5 linear ft. (17 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: The Paul Outerbridge papers document the American photographer's artistic and professional life from his earliest art studies in 1915 through his varied career as an innovator in advertising photography, a pioneer in color photography, and a freelance writer. The archive includes correspondence, notebooks and diaries, typescripts, drawings and sketches, business records, scrapbooks, a portfolio, autobiographical and biographical statements, and intermittent clippings and ephemera.
    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 Paul Outerbridge (1896-1958) was born in New York City. He studied anatomy and aesthetics at the Art Students' League of New York from 1915 to 1917 while working as a theatrical designer and illustrator, among other jobs. In 1917 he joined the Canadian Royal Flying Corps. Discharged after a minor crash, Outerbridge enlisted in the United States Army and gained his first photographic experience documenting materials and operations for the army at a lumber camp in Oregon. In 1921 he enrolled at the Clarence H. White School of Photography, New York, where he studied with White and Max Weber. Although he did not complete the program at the White School, Outerbridge demonstrated such proficiency that he was soon invited to teach there. His first published photograph appeared in Vogue in 1922, the same year he became acquainted with Alfred Stieglitz and studied sculpture with Alexander Archipenko.
    Through meticulous composition and manipulation of light, Outerbridge transformed everyday objects into formal abstractions of mass and line, light and shadow. His innovative photographs were widely praised and published in magazines such as Vanity fair, Harper's bazaar, and Vogue. As a freelance advertising photographer, he reinterpreted the ‘product shot' in his own visual language, as seen in the crisp precision and Cubist aesthetic of his Ide collar advertisement, first published in the July 1922 issue of Vanity fair (see series VI). Marcel Duchamp was reportedly so impressed with the image that he tore it from a magazine and tacked it to his studio wall. This landmark of early modernism in commercial photography led to more commissions, and Outerbridge had his first solo exhibition at the Art Center, New York, in 1924.
    Outerbridge interrupted his New York success by moving to Paris in 1925, then to Berlin three years later where he became briefly involved in filmmaking. In Paris he met Edward Steichen, with whom he developed a friendly rivalry while they both worked for the French edition of Vogue. Man Ray was a frequent companion and entries in Outerbridge's pocket diaries from the period mention encounters with numerous other artists, including Duchamp, Berenice Abbott, Kiki de Montparnasse, and Constantin Brancusi (see series II).
    Shortly after his return to the United States in 1930, Outerbridge moved to Monsey, New York. There he concentrated on his pioneering work in color photography, eventually perfecting his technique with the complex tri-color carbro process. As described in U.S. camera, "Technically his carbros are gems. Their color range, their flesh tones, their unbelievable fidelity make them the envy of all who see them" (no. 2, 1939, p. 80). The primary subject of his technical virtuosity was the female nude, often exoticized or fetishized with props, sometimes with menacing overtones. The full-color realism of the nudes shocked some viewers and resulted in scandal, to which Outerbridge responded, "What this country needs is more and better nudes" (Outerbridge, "The Nude," undated typescript, series III). Outerbridge's book, Photographing in color, was published by Random House in 1940.
    In 1943 Outerbridge moved from New York to California hoping to transition from photography to motion pictures. He never found work in the film industry, however, and instead earned an irregular livelihood as a portrait photographer and freelance writer, contributing articles and illustrations to photographic and travel magazines. From 1954 until his death he wrote the monthly column "About Color" for U.S. camera. Paul Outerbridge died October 17, 1958, in Laguna Beach, California.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Paul Outerbridge papers, 1915-1979 (bulk 1915-1958), Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 870520

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired in 1987.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Paul Outerbridge papers constitute the surviving body of documents relating to the American photographer's artistic and professional life from his earliest art studies in 1915 through his varied career as an innovator in advertising photography, a pioneer in color photography, and a freelance writer.
    Letters to and from Outerbridge document the acquisition, exhibition, and publication of his work, while professional records itemize prints sold and loaned. A large portion of the archive consists of Outerbridge's writings, which range from early poems to a draft and a proof of his book, Photographing in color (New York: Random House, 1940), to typescript drafts of articles. Among the articles are drafts of every issue, from 1954 until his death, of Outerbridge's monthly column "About Color" for U.S. camera. Also included are writings by others, primarily poems and brief excerpts, but also a typescript of a play by Alvan L. Barach.
    Monthly diaries for four years chronicle the details of Outerbridge's daily life in the 1920s and offer a glimpse of the artistic life of New York and Paris, the cities in which he lived at the time. Among many artists mentioned in these volumes are Alexander Archipenko, Man Ray, Edward Steichen, Marcel Duchamp, Berenice Abbott, Kiki de Montparnasse, and Constantin Brancusi.
    Preliminary sketches and drawings, a student notebook, and a teaching notebook provide insight into Outerbridge's creative process. Detailed notes, exposure records, and lighting diagrams document his work methods. The published results are contained in two large scrapbooks and a portfolio. With approximately 500 tear sheets from magazines and journals, the portfolio and scrapbooks together comprise a comprehensive collection of Outerbridge's published work.
    The archive also contains resumes, transcribed comments about Outerbridge's work, an incomplete autobiography (1929), and brief biographical and autobiographical statements written at different stages in his career. Materials collected intermittently by Outerbridge, including clippings, printed ephemera, and writings and drawings by others, point to his varied interests and associates.
    Although a substantial portion of the material is undated, the bulk can be situated between 1922, the year of Outerbridge's first published photographs, and his death in 1958. Also included are obituaries, correspondence regarding the final dispensation of his estate, and other materials collected by his widow, Lois (Weir) Outerbridge, after his death.

    Arrangement note

    The collection is arranged in eight series: Series I. Correspondence, 1915-1979 Series II. Writings, 1929-1958 Series III. Notebooks and diaries, 1915-1926 Series IV. Drawings and sketches, 1935-1938 Series V. Professional records, 1922-1958 Series VI. Portfolios, 1922-1956 Series VII. Autobiographical and biographical information, 1924-1973 Series VIII. Clippings and ephemera, 1923-1966

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Barach, Alvan L. (Alvan Leroy), 1895-
    Epstean, Arnold Allen
    Loomis, Maurine
    Man Ray, 1890-1976
    Outerbridge, Paul
    Quinquela Martín, Benito, 1890-1977
    Wood, Robert W. (Robert William), 1889-1979

    Subjects - Topics

    Advertising photography
    Color photography
    Commercial art--United States
    Photography, Artistic

    Subjects - Places

    New York (N.Y.)--Intellectual life--20th century
    Paris (France)--Intellectual life--20th century

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Color transparencies
    Drawings (visual works)
    Photographic prints
    Photographs, Original
    Portfolios (groups of works)