Monday’s Photography Inspiration – Charles Harbutt

“A photograph is a collision between a person with a camera and reality. The photograph is typically as interesting as collision is.” – Charles Harbutt

Charles Henry Harbutt was an American photographer, a former president of Magnum, and full-time Associate Professor of Photography at Parsons School of Design in New York.

He was born in Camden, New Jersey, and raised in Teaneck, New Jersey. He learned a lot his photographic skills from the township’s amateur camera club. He attended Regis High School in New York City where he took photographs for the school newspaper. He later graduated from Marquette University.

Harbutt’s work is deeply rooted in the modern photojournalist tradition. For the first twenty years of his career he contributed to major magazines in the United States, Europe and Japan. His work was often intrinsically political, exhibiting social and economic contingencies.

In 1959, while working as a writer and photographer for the Catholic magazine Jubilee,  he was invited by members of the Castro underground to document the Cuban Revolution on the strength of three photographs he had published in Modern Photography.

Robert Lax, his editor used photographs taken by Harbutt for the front and back cover of his first book of poetry, The Circus of the Sun.

Harbutt later joined  Magnum Photos and was elected president of the organisation twice, first in 1979. He left the group in 1981, citing its increasingly commercial ambitions and his desire to pursue more personal work.

He taught photography workshops, exhibited in solo and group shows around the world, and joined the faculty of the Parsons School of Design at New School University as a full-time professor, in addition to serving as guest artist at MIT, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Harbutt was also a founding member of Archive Pictures Inc., an international documentary photographers’ cooperative, and a member of the American Society of Magazine Photographers.

His work has been widely collected and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of American History, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the U.S. Library of Congress, George Eastman House, the Art Institute of Chicago, the International Center of Photography, the Center for Creative Photography, and at the Bibliothèque Nationale, the Beaubourg, and the Maison européenne de la photographie in Paris.

In 1997, his negatives, master prints, and archives were acquired for the collection of the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona. He had a large recent exhibitions at Perpignan (2004), New York (2006) and Manila (2008). He also participated in group shows at the Vienna Museum, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and the Arles Festival.

In 2012, he was honoured as a Master photographer at the Fotofest in Bursa, Turkey. He’s had three books and one monograph have been published of his work:

Departures and Arrivals – Damiani, Bologna, 2012

Progreso – Navarin Editeur, Paris, 1986 (English edition: Actuality Inc., NYC, 1987)

Charles Harbutt: I Grandi Fotografi – Editoriale Fabbri, Milan, Italy: 1983

Travelog – MIT Press, Cambridge, 1974. Arles award: Best photographic book of 1974

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