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Stephen Sprague collection

Identifier: AG 65

Scope and Contents

This collection has been divided into four series: Activity Files (1966-79), Personal Library (1971-75), Photographic Materials (1964-79), and Audio-visual Materials (1968-78), relating to the short but varied career of photographer, filmmaker, and videographer, Stephen Sprague. The collection was arranged largely as received from David Sprague.

Series one: Activity Files, 1966-79. Arranged alphabetically by the original folder headings, and then chronologically within each folder. The bulk of these files concern documentary projects in the 1970s employing photography and film. Maxwell Street Alley Blues, Naked City, Old Time Fiddlers Convention, C.J. Pansirna, Peru, and Yoruba are all represented. While assistant professor at Purdue, Sprague taught several film and photography classes. Files from this period contain correspondence with colleagues; bibliographies for classes on the history of photography and visual anthropology; two self-published books containing work by his photography students; several grant proposals; and others relating to personal and professional matters. There is correspondence relating to specific projects or subjects in several folders throughout the series especially those labeled "Peru," "Yoruba," and "Society for the Anthropology of Visual Communication". The folder "Photography Correspondence" concerns one-person and group exhibitions, video and film demonstrations, and exchanges of information on related topics.

The Activity Files contain five research papers by Sprague; two relate to his studies in geology, two to his studies in photography and film, and one to his published paper on research done in Africa, "Yoruba Photography: How the Yoruba See Themselves" (1978). The latter was delivered (in several versions) to audiences ranging from anthropologists to photographers. Considering the trajectory of his interests during his last years, this was probably the direction that his future work would have taken.

Of special interest in this series are the following items: two research papers by Bruce Jenkins and a handwritten note by Sprague on a lecture by Hollis Frampton, filmmaker; correspondence and biographical notes on C.J. Pansirna (1888-1969), a commercial photographer in Chicago whose interests in documenting ethnic groups may have been an early influence on Sprague; a three-page, photocopied typescript titled "Harold Allen-A Photographic Autobiography"; and several scripts and logs relating to Sprague's film, video and slide productions.

Series two: Personal Library, 1971-1975. Contains books and photographic miscellany by photographers Les Krims and Charles Swedlund. This is probably a small portion of a larger library once owned by Sprague; though there is no evidence of the scope of that collection. There are three books, 1971-1972, by Les Krims. Two of the books by Swedlund are illustrated flip-books. Also included are Swedlund's Do-It-Yourself Portfolio and his Phenakistascope Discs.

Series three: Photographic Materials, 1964-1979. Includes a wide range of black-and-white and color materials-transparencies, positives, negatives, proof sheets, work prints, and fine prints. There are some unidentified photographs in this series. The earliest materials relate to Sprague's geological interests and travels. The bulk of the series begins with his serious study of photography in Chicago around 1968, and continues through his teaching career at Columbia College and Purdue University.

This series has been divided by record types into the following subseries: Negatives and Contacts (1964-1978); Transparencies (1965-1978); and Photographs (circa 1965-1979).

Series four: Audio-visual Materials, 1968-1978. Includes 16 mm. and super 8 mm. films, 1/2 in. helical scan black-and-white videotapes, 1/4 in. reel-to-reel audiotapes, and 1/8 in. audiocassettes. This series encompasses nearly every project Sprague undertook during the period 1968-1978. Included are final edited pieces which represent the culmination of the project, original camera footage, various work prints, and audiotapes. The clips vary in length from a few seconds to one hour and include fifty-two 16 mm. films, sixteen super 8 mm. films, thirty-three 1/2 in. reel-to-reel videotapes, twenty-six 1/4 in. reel-to-reel audiotapes, and ten 1/8 in. audiocassettes.

Sprague's earlier work, 1968-1973, consists of three film projects. The most noteworthy of these, Oink won an honorable mention at the First International Erotic Film Festival, San Francisco (1970). Beginning in 1973, Sprague began utilizing several moving picture formats. The bulk of this series represents projects undertaken between 1973 and 1978 and includes both film and video productions on fraternity life at Purdue University, the Mr. and Miss Nude America Contest, a blues band on Maxwell Street (Chicago), and Nigerian and Peruvian culture.

Audio-visual materials have been separated into film and video projects, and then arranged chronologically. Audiotapes which pertain to a particular project have been kept with that project. Otherwise, the tapes have been arranged chronologically.


  • circa 1964-1979


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

Stephen Sprague (1942-1979) was an American photographer, teacher, and filmmaker. Sprague received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1970. He worked as an assistant professor of photography and film for Purdue University. He was mainly interested in the concepts of documentary photography, including the ways in which the photographer’s personal and cultural biases might be revealed. Sprague died in 1979.


28.5 Linear Feet

Metadata Rights Declarations

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


Activity files, personal library, photographic materials, and audio-visual materials, circa 1964-1979, of Stephen Sprague (1942-1979), photographer, teacher, and filmmaker. The activity files include correspondence and research notes documenting his film, photography, and video projects; office files from his tenure as professor at Purdue University; and research papers on geology, photography, and anthropology. The bulk of the collection consists of photographic materials: black-and-white and color negatives, transparencies, proof prints, and fine prints-which relate to his major projects including his M.F.A. thesis Maxwell Street Flea Market, The Work of C.J. Pansirna, Photographs of Fraternity Life, Photographs of DePue, Illinois, A Decade of Documentary, Yoruba Photography, and his last projects on Mexico and Peru. The films, videotapes, and audiotapes represent his documentary, artistic, and ethnographic efforts. Some of the more realized projects are John David Mooney: Plasma Light Sculpture (1974), Mr. and Miss Nude America (1974-1975), When It Is My Time, My Star Will Shine (1975), Maxwell Street Alley Blues (1976), and Deep in a Dream (1977).


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Series One: Activity Files, 1966-1979
  2. Series Two: Personal Library, 1971-1975
  3. Series Three: Photographic Materials, 1964-1979
  4. Series Four: Audio-visual Materials, 1968-1978

Custodial History

The Stephen Sprague Archive was gifted to the Center between 1983 and 1984 from the Sprague family and Sprague's ex-wife, Linda Sprague. After Stephen Sprague's death in 1979, the collection was inventoried by his brother, David Sprague, and later transferred to the Center.

Separated Materials

One portfolio, "Photographs: Institute of Design" (Portfolio 6, Illinois Institute of Technology, 1969. Number 100 of 100) and approximately 3 linear feet of master prints by Stephen Sprague were transferred to the Center's Fine Print Collection.

Processing Information

Finding aid updated by Alexis Peregoy in January, 2017.

Stephen Sprague collectioncirca 1964-1979
Finding aid updated by Alexis Peregoy
© 2017
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 inEnglish.

Repository Details

Part of the Center for Creative Photography Archives Repository

1030 N. Olive RD
Tucson Arizona 85721 United States