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Gordon L. Bennett papers

Identifier: AG 253

Scope and Contents

The Gordon Bennett papers document Bennett’s careers as a dealer, collector and artist. The bulk of the collection contains records of sales, auctions and purchases of photographs, some photocopies of his collection, loan records, appraisals and donations. There is extensive documentation of his 1999 donation of the bulk of his collection to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the appraisal and sale of the Carleton Watkins Yosemite New Series, including the Sotheby’s catalog. By the 1990s Bennett had decided to focus on his own art career and the collection documents his exhibitions, grants and works purchased by museums and contains his negatives, photographs, photographs of his exhibitions and collages. A small group of materials document his fine art photography poster publishing venture, Homestead Productions, established in 1971. There are a few personal papers documenting his education and military service, but no personal correspondence.

Series one, Biographical, 1951-2012, contains education records, Master’s thesis, military records, portraits, resumes, interviews, awards and Bennett’s obituary.

Series two, Activities, contains two subseries: Dealer and Collector Activities and Personal Art Career. Subseries Dealer and Collector Activities (1960-2010) contains correspondence, inventories, auction records, donation records, appraisals, tax records, research and receipts. Folder titles assigned by Bennett and grouped alphabetically by artists, subject, institutions to whom he loaned, donated or sold photographs, and the auction houses at which he purchased or sold works. Of note are his research materials on Carleton Watkins and catalog of Sotheby’s sale, appraisals of his collections and itemized donation to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Subseries Personal Art Career (1962-2007) documents his art and photography. Materials including clipping books, exhibition records and reviews, grants, contracts, prints, transparencies, negatives and publications containing his work. The appendix has a listing of Bennett’s art exhibitions. The final subseries on Homestead Productions (1971- ) contains a small group of materials documenting Bennett’s publishing venture with business partner Edward Kitson. Included are advertising materials, posters and artist contracts signed by Bullock, Cunningham, and other California photographers.

Series three consists of publications containing reproductions of Bennett’s photographs and a few books from his personal library, one annotated.

Series four, Photographic Materials includes Bennett’s negatives and transparencies, photographic prints by and of Bennett, photographic collages by Bennett, photocopies of his work and others and a small group of vernacular photographs collected by Bennett.


  • circa 1951-2012


Language of Materials

Material in English

Conditions Governing Access

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Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission from the copyright owner (which could be the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates or literary executors) prior to any copyright-protected uses of the collection.

The user agrees to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the Arizona Board of Regents, the University of Arizona, Center of Creative Photography, including its officers, employees, and agents, from and against all claims made relating to copyright or other intellectual property infringement.

Biographical Note

Gordon Lynn Bennett was born April 1, 1933 in Decatur, Tennessee. From childhood Bennett had an interest in photography and art. Following his high school graduation in 1951, he attended East Tennessee State University until 1953. Bennett joined the United States Air Force and served from 1953-1957. While in the Air Force he worked in the darkroom for the first time. Following his discharge he took a position with the Curry Company, managing a transportation and touring office in Yosemite Valley. While there he saw and was inspired by the work of Ansel Adams.

During 1957-1958 Bennett studied painting and drawing at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, earning a B.A. His first formal study of photography began as a graduate student at San Francisco State College in 1960. While there, Bennett was a student of John Gutmann and Jack Welpott and in 1964 earned an M.A. in Art with an emphasis in photography. He had his first one man show at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1964.

During the 1960’s Bennett worked at a variety of jobs, teaching art in the San Francisco Public Schools, supervising photography facilities at San Francisco State and photographing gallery installations and artists’ works. In 1971 he taught briefly at SF Art Institute but decided to leave photography and began working in collage and assemblage.

Bennett was a lifelong artist, photographer, photography collector and dealer. While in college he began collecting vernacular photographs and over the years amassed a collection of 19th and early 20th century photographs that influenced curators, museum collections and enriched the history of photography. Bennett persuaded museum curators that vernacular photography was a legitimate subject for study. Over the years he loaned prints from his collections to museums, institutions and publications.

His most important discovery occurred in 1967 when he found two complete disbound albums of 19th century photographer Carleton E. Watkins’ New Series mammoth-plate prints of Yosemite and California Missions. The albums were unique, having survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and destruction of Watkin’s studio. In 1973 Bennett exhibited the 76 prints at Focus Gallery, San Francisco, thought to be the first exhibition of Watkin’s work since his death in 1916. Over the years he resisted offers to sell individual prints because he was committed to keeping the sets together. Bennett stated that he wished that them to be kept together and eventually placed in an institution particularly receptive to Watkins work. The California Mission set was ultimately placed in Special Collections at the University of California, Los Angeles. Bennett retained the Yosemite New Series for over thirty years after its discovery, occasionally lending prints out for exhibition. On April 28, 2004 Bennett sold the New Series, 40 mammoth plate photographs of Yosemite, at auction at Sotheby’s, New York. He donated his remaining collection of over 1,000 images to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Bennett worked on personal photography projects throughout his adult life. Working in 35mm and 4” x 5” formats he exhibited and sold his work. He stated that his photographs “must have an element of mystery” and hoped that “the image evokes meanings on several levels, not only the literal but also on that of the symbolic and the enigmatic”. He later incorporated “found” vernacular photographs into collages. During the 1990s he gave up collecting to concentrate on his personal art and photography. He received a Marin Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship for non-traditional media in 1991 and an Individual Artist Fellowship for sculpture in 1996. His works are in the collection of major museums in the United States.

In 1971 Bennett pioneered a publishing company, Homestead Productions that produced posters from the fine art photography of Imogen Cunningham, Wynn Bullock, and other California photographers.

Gordon Bennett died of a heart attack on November 25, 2012 at age 79 in Oakwood, Georgia.


Gordon Lynn Bennett born April 1 in Decatur, Tennessee
Becomes actively interested in photography
Graduated Meigs County High School, Tennessee
Attends East Tennessee State, Johnson City, Tennessee
Military service in U.S. Air Force
First works in a photographic darkroom while in U.S. Air Force
Photographed ruins of three Roman cities in Libya in color to illustrate his paper “Roman Art in Tripolitania”
Manager, Transportation Office. Yosemite Park and Curry Company, Yosemite National Park. First sees work of Ansel Adams.
Undergraduate studies in painting and drawing at the Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, California; earns B.A.
Graduate studies at San Francisco State College, California; earns M.A., in Art with emphasis in Photography. Studies with Jack Welpott and John Gutmann
Student teacher in Art, Francisco Junior High School, San Francisco, California
Photographed early settlements and cemeteries in Northern California, using a 4” x 5” view camera. Images later part of his 1964 one-man show at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Substitute Teacher, San Francisco Unified School District, San Francisco
Began photographic series on parades
First one-man show, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California
1964-late 60s
Photography Technician and Supervisor of photography facilities in art department of San Francisco State College, San Francisco, California
1964-late 60s
Additional employment photographing gallery installations and artists’ works.
Driving trip across U.S. Among photographs taken were those of rural people of East Tennessee where he grew up, including his uncle, Abner Bennett, and Abner’s wife, Flossie.
Began a photo-study of Southern California in Los Angeles, concentrating on elderly living in public places and behind-the scenes at Hollywood film studios
Photographs people and people-objects from San Francisco north into British Columbia. Began series of environmental portraits of West Coast artists
Discovers disbound set of 76 mammoth-plate photographs of Yosemite and California missions from Carleton E. Watkins’ New Series in a San Francisco bookstore.
Experimented with use of sandwiched negatives, his own and “found” negatives
Photographed series on county fairs in rural California
Continued photo-essay on Southern California. Concentrated on San Diego and Hollywood. Began to photograph cut-out figures and fake facades
Continued work on Southern California, concentrating on Long Beach and Palm Springs areas
Photographed student and faculty strike and aftermath at San Francisco State College. Series used to promote Art-in-the-Community program for the city of San Francisco
Works on series of photographed television screen images
Briefly teaches at San Francisco State College
Cuts back on his photography to work in other media, principally collage and assemblage
Establishes publishing venture, Homestead Productions. Uses images by California photographers Wynn Bullock, Imogen Cunningham, Don Worth, and others. First printed posters to utilize fine-art photography
Exhibits his collection of 76 Watkins’ mammoth-plate prints at Focus Gallery, San Francisco. First exhibition of Watkin’s work since his death in 1916
Creates stage environments in U.S. and abroad
Resumes work with collage and assemblage
Resumes photography and works solely in color, principally photographing natural scenes mostly at Point Reyes National Seashore
Continues to photograph. Works on book combining his photographs with his writing, but never submits for publication. Produces poems and essays
Photographs urban scene and man-built structures in the landscape
Becomes private dealer in 19th and 20th century vintage prints
Marin Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship in Non-traditional Media
Marin Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship in Sculpture
Begins offering Watkins’ Yosemite photographs from New Series for sale
Auction of Bennett’s collection of Carlton Watkins New Series, 40 mammoth-plate photographs of Yosemite, April 28 at Sotheby’s, New York
Donates his collection of over 1,000 images to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Dies of heart attack on November 25 at age 79 in Oakwood, Georgia
Collection donated to CCP


19 Linear Feet

Metadata Rights Declarations

  • License: This record is made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Creative Commons license.


Collection contains papers, photographic materials, artwork and ephemera circa 1951-2012 of Gordon Bennett (1933-2012) collector, dealer, photographer and publisher. A pioneer collector of 19th and 20th century photography and advocate for vernacular photography, he discovered a complete set of Carleton E. Watkins’ New Series mammoth prints, the only known set to survive the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Bulk of collection records his collecting activities: purchases, donations, sales and loans to galleries and institutions. The remainder consists of Bennett’s personal photographs negatives, art work and exhibition records. A small group of papers document his fine art poster publishing venture, Homestead Productions. A few personal papers record his education, Air Force service, and awards.


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Series 1: Biographical Materials

Series 2: Activity Files

  1. Subseries 1: Dealer and Collector Activities
  2. Subseries 2: Personal Art Career
  3. Subseries 3: Homestead Productions
  1. Series 3: Publications
  2. Series 4: Photographic Materials

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was donated to the Center in 2015 by Joyce Branch, cousin and executor of Gordon L. Bennett. Bennett’s close friend Denise Bethel, photography expert and auctioneer at Sotheby’s, New York assisted Ms. Branch in the selection of donation material and added explanatory notes to some items in the collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Ann Richwine, 2015. Finding aid created by Ann Richwine in 2016, and updated by Susan Mergenthal and Alexis Peregoy, 2016.

Gordon L. Bennett papers circa 1951-2012
Finding aid created by CCP Archives Staff
© 2021
Description rules
Finding Aid Based On Dacs (Describing Archives: A Content Standard)
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid encoded in English

Repository Details

Part of the Center for Creative Photography Archives Repository

1030 N. Olive RD
Tucson Arizona 85721 United States