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Max Yavno archive

Identifier: AG 136

Scope and Contents

This archive includes a variety of material from the life and work of Max Yavno. This includes correspondences; biographical materials; exhibition records; writings; interviews; book projects; lectures; awards; business records; clippings; publications; legal, financial, and medical records; audiovisual materials; memorabilia; posthumous materials; and photographic materials, including negatives, slides, and contact prints.

Series one, Correspondence, contains four boxes of correspondence from publications, organizations, galleries, institutions, photographers and artists, and other individuals; there is also a folder of Yavno’s outgoing correspondence. A list of Yavno’s correspondents can be found in the Index to Correspondence following this series. Of note is correspondence with fellow photographers Ansel Adams, Aaron Siskind, Brett and Edward Weston, and others; with organizations such as the Friends of Photography; and with institutions including Aperture, the George Eastman House, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Series two, Biographical materials, consists of materials pertaining to the life of Max Yavno, including information from his early life and education, service in the U.S. Army, travel materials, and some posthumous materials. These papers include birth records, passports, a diary, recipes, portraits of Yavno, and his datebooks.

Series three contains exhibition materials, including labels and other materials from twenty-one group and solo exhibitions around the U.S., England, and Mexico.

Series four, Activity files, is made up of five subseries. Subseries one, Writings, contains writings by and about Max Yavno, many by Ben Maddow, as well as a folder of poems inspired by Yavno photographs. Subseries two, Interviews, consists of three interviews of Max Yavno. Subseries three, Book projects, includes materials related to Yavno’s own books and The Photography of Max Yavno with text by Ben Maddow, for which there is a box containing a book maquette. Subseries four is made up of lectures, teaching materials, and workshop materials. Subseries five, Awards, fellowships, contains awards and papers pertaining to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Series five, Business records, has been divided into four subseries. Subseries one contains miscellaneous records, such as records of Yavno’s buildings and studios, stationery and business cards, and model consent and release forms. Subseries two contains camera equipment and processing records. Subseries three, Invoices, consists of two boxes of invoices arranged by client, one box of client payment records, and two boxes of spiral bound books of portrait photography, possibly used as examples of Yavno’s work. Subseries four, Commercial-work publications, contains tearsheets, clippings, and mock-ups of commercial work done by Yavno.

Series six contains two boxes of clippings, undated and dated from 1946 to 1969 and 1972 to 1986.

Series seven, Publications, is made up of eight subseries and includes various monographs and publications containing images by Yavno, monographs that are not related to photography, monographs and periodicals that do not contain Yavno images, technical literature and manuals, and duplicate exhibition announcements and publications.

Series eight, Legal/financial/medical records, consists of six subseries. Subseries one, Legal records, contains papers related to Yavno’s estates, leases, loans, deeds, and titles. Subseries two is made up of tax records. Subseries three pertains to Yavno’s investments. Subseries four, Banking, contains loan and check information and bank statements. Subseries five, Receipts, includes receipts for Yavno’s camera equipment, credit cards, studio, and household. Subseries six contains medical records as well as information regarding insurance.

Series nine, Audiovisual materials, is made up of 8mm and 16mm films pertaining to “Yavno Project 1 Picture” including the film itself, as well as two cassette tape recordings of Leonard Vernon and Sally Stein speaking about Yavno.

Series ten, Memorabilia/art/artifacts, contains a scrapbook, awards, pottery and sculptural figures and pieces, clothing, a rotary telephone, a ceramic bust, printing plates, blueprints, and other objects belonging to Yavno.

Series eleven consists of Posthumous materials, including inventories; materials regarding Yavno’s estate, photographs, and funeral; receipts; posthumous correspondence; and medical and insurance materials.

Series twelve, Photographic materials, has been divided into five subseries. Subseries one contains black and white 4 x 5 and 2¼ x 2¼ negatives; these include photographs for The San Francisco Book, The Los Angeles Book, other street photographs from around the world, Wine in California negatives, and miscellaneous images. Subseries two, Color negatives and transparencies, contains various sizes of negatives and transparencies of images of various subjects, including various portraits and objects for commercial work. Subseries three, 35mm color slides, contains images on slides, including portraits, city and street photographs, and miscellaneous subjects and locations. Materials in subseries four, Color slides from binders, were originally housed in three-ring binders and depict various subjects and landscapes along with Yavno’s descriptions of each slide page. Subseries five is made up of contact prints, proof prints, and study prints of Yavno’s photographs, both landscape and commercial work; there are also portraits and a pastel drawing of Max Yavno in the final box of this subseries.


  • 1911-2005


Language of Materials

Material in English

Conditions Governing Access

To access materials from this collection, please contact

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

Social documentary photographer Max Yavno (1911-1985) identified the odd charm that constitutes the identity of a place and people. Born in New York, Yavno was a social worker from 1932-1936; this background clearly informed his photographic career. His humanistic sensibility is revealed in his work, which includes street photographs made in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Yavno is best known for his depictions of these great American cities and the cultural and social detail of their inhabitants, many of which distinctively reflect their era.

In 1936, Yavno began photographing New York street life for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Theater Project. As his interest in photography burgeoned, Yavno joined the Photo League and served as its President in the late 1930s. Through this organization he met Aaron Siskind who became his roommate and lifelong friend. During World War II, Yavno served in the United States Army Air Force as a film and photography instructor. Following the war, he relocated to San Francisco and continued teaching. There, Yavno began a freelance career with clients including Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. During this time Yavno achieved success both as a fine art and a commercial photographer.

Yavno was included in “Seventeen American Photographers,” a 1947 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This placed him alongside established photographers Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Man Ray, and Edward Weston. Following this pivotal exhibition, Yavno published The San Francisco Book in 1948 and The Los Angeles Book in 1950, both of which chronicled the urban landscape and its population. By 1952, Edward Steichen had purchased Yavno’s prints for The Museum of Modern Art, New York. With recommendations by Edward Weston and Steichen, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1953. From 1954-75, Yavno owned and operated a thriving commercial photography studio in Los Angeles.

In 1975, the sixty-four-year-old photographer closed his studio to allow for more personal pursuits. Yavno continued to photograph California, but also worked in Mexico, Morocco, Israel, and Egypt, securing funds for the later trips from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Photography of Max Yavno was published by the University of California press in 1981, to accompany a retrospective at Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. Yavno continued to make and exhibit photographic works until his death in 1985.


Born April 26 in New York City.
June, graduates from Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, New York; begins working for the New York Stock Exchange as a page boy; begins studies at the City College of New York during evening sessions.
Marries Alyse Abrams and purchases his first camera (divorced 1934).
Receives Bachelor of Social Science degree from the City College of New York.
Attends the Graduate School of Business Administration at Columbia University.
Enrolls in the graduate program in Political Science at Columbia University.
Employed as a social worker at the New York City Home Relief Bureau.
Employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to process artists' applications and as a photographer.
President of the Photo League.
Shares an apartment with Aaron Siskind in New York.
Serves in the United States Army Air Force during World War II as a photography instructor.
Moves to Los Angeles; begins working as a freelance photographer for various magazines, including Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.
Solo exhibition at the American Contemporary Gallery in Los Angeles.
Briefly lives in San Francisco; Siskind visits him.
Publishes The San Francisco Book (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.) with Herb Caen; solo exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.
Siskind visits him in Los Angeles.
Publication of The Los Angeles Book (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.) with Lee Shippey.
Edward Steichen acquires nineteen (or twenty in some accounts) Yavno prints for The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Awarded John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship with recommendations by Edward Weston and Steichen.
1954 and 55
Awarded Art Directors Club Award, New York.
Owns and operates a commercial photography studio in Los Angeles.
Publication of The Story of Wine in California (Berkeley: University of California Press) with text by M.F.K. Fisher.
Travels to Europe.
Publication of Natzler Ceramics (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art).
Studies cinematography, University of California at Los Angeles, Graduate Division of Theater Arts.
Travels to Death Valley, California; begins to make personal, artistic photographs.
Solo exhibition at the G. Ray Hawkins Gallery in Los Angeles.
Publication of Portfolio One: Image as Poem (Los Angeles) with text by Ben Maddow; and Silver See (Los Angeles) a group portfolio with text by Victor Landweber; solo exhibition at Halsted Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan.
Solo exhibition at G. Ray Hawkins Gallery in Los Angeles; and at the Gallery for Photographic Arts in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Travels to Israel and Egypt funded by a National Endowment for the Arts grant; solo exhibition at the Gallery for Photographic Arts in North Olmstead, Ohio; and at Marcuse Pfeifer Gallery in New York.
Solo exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco; and at the Equivalents Gallery in Seattle, Washington and G. Ray Hawkins Gallery in Los Angeles.
October to December, travels to Mexico; Publication of The Photography of Max Yavno (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press) with text by Ben Maddow; retrospective exhibition at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery; exhibition at the Galería Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Cuanhtémoc, Mexico.
Travels to Morocco.
Dies April 4 in Los Angeles.
Archive acquired by the Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona.


84 Linear Feet

Metadata Rights Declarations

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


The Max Yavno archive contains papers, records of commercial assignments, correspondence, information regarding the Photo League, memorabilia, photographic materials and over 800 fine photographs.


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

Series 1: Correspondence, n.d., 1941-1987, 4 boxes

  1. Index to Correspondence
  1. Series 2: Biographical materials, n.d., 1911-1985, 4 boxes
  2. Series 3: Exhibitions, n.d., 1946-1986, 1 box

Series 4: Activity files, n.d., 1946-1984, 4 boxes

  1. Subseries 1: Writings, n.d., 1952-1981, 10 folders
  2. Subseries 2: Interviews, 1962-1980, 7 folders
  3. Subseries 3: Book projects, 1948-1981, 2 boxes
  4. Subseries 4: Lectures, teaching, workshops, 1950-1984, 10 folders
  5. Subseries 5: Awards, fellowships, n.d., 1946-1981, 5 folders

Series 5: Business records, n.d., 1947-1985, 9 boxes

  1. Subseries 1: Miscellaneous record, n.d., 1952-1985, 1 box
  2. Subseries 2: Camera equipment/processing records, n.d., 1956-1984, 1 box
  3. Subseries 3: Invoices, n.d., 1949-1983, 5 boxes
  4. Subseries 4: Commercial-work publications, n.d., 1947-1979, 2 boxes
  1. Series 6: Clippings, n.d.,1946-1986, 2 boxes

Series 7: Publications, n.d., 1934-1993, 8 boxes

  1. Subseries 1: Monographs with images by Yavno, 1950-1993, 11 items
  2. Subseries 2: Periodicals with images by Yavno, n.d., 1940-1985, 1 box
  3. Subseries 3: Monographs that do not contain Yavno images, n.d., 1936-1981, 17 items
  4. Subseries 4: Other monographs – not photography related, n.d., 1934-1988, 19 items
  5. Subseries 5: American Geographical Society: Around the World Program, 1958, 1 box
  6. Subseries 6: Periodicals with no Yavno images identified, n.d., 1957-1985, 1 box
  7. Subseries 7: Technical literature and manuals, n.d., 1951-1982, 3 boxes
  8. Subseries 8: Duplicate exhibition announcements and publications, n.d., 2 boxes

Series 8: Legal/financial/medical records, n.d., 1947-1985, 7 boxes

  1. Subseries 1: Legal records, 1953-1985, 20 folders
  2. Subseries 2: Tax records, n.d., 1947-1985, 18 folders
  3. Subseries 3: Investments, 1951-1985, 6 folders
  4. Subseries 4: Banking, 1948-1985, 3 boxes
  5. Subseries 5: Receipts, n.d., 1 box
  6. Subseries 6: Insurance/medical records, n.d, 1948-1984, 2 boxes
  1. Series 9: Audiovisual materials, n.d., 1989, 1 box
  2. Series 10: Memorabilia/art/artifacts, n.d., 1960, 1969, 15 boxes
  3. Series 11: Posthumous materials, n.d., 1984-2005, 3 boxes

Series 12: Photographic materials, n.d., 1938-1984, 57 boxes

  1. Subseries 1: Black and white negatives, 4x5 and 2 ¼ x 2 ¼, n.d., 1938-1984, 21 boxes
  2. Subseries 2: Color negatives and transparencies, n.d., 7 boxes
  3. Subseries 3: 35 mm color slides, n.d., 1966-1982, 7 boxes
  4. Subseries 4: Color slides from binders, n.d., 1966-1982, 8 boxes
  5. Subseries 5: Contact prints, proof prints, study prints, n.d., 1940s-1984, 14 boxes

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The archive was received in three accruals. The first arrived in 1992 after being sorted and distributed by the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Los Angeles. The second and third were received in 2008 from the Leonard and Marjorie Vernon Estate.


Accruals were received in 1992 and 2008.


  • Yavno, Max, and Ben Maddow. The Photography of Max Yavno. University of California Press, 1981.

Processing Information

Shortly after the 1992 shipment was received at CCP, the photographic component was examined by the curator and sorted into the fine print component and the study print component.

Finding aid updated by Paige Hilman, February 2018 and by Tai Huesgen, September, 2020.

Max Yavno archive 1911-2005
Finding aid created by CCP Archives Staff
© 2020
Description rules
Finding Aid Based On Dacs (Describing Archives: A Content Standard)
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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