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Mickey Pallas collection

Identifier: AG 145

Scope and Contents

Little documentation exists regarding Pallas' early life nor about his personal life (except for a small collection of family photographs among his BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL FILES). The Archive is particularly rich in photographic materials, including an estimated 250,000 negatives and 8,000 contact sheets from 1945 to 1980.

The Mickey Pallas Archive was arranged into subgroups during the processing of the collection. The papers have been designated Archive Group (AG) 145. The archive group is divided first into boxes, then into folders. Thus, AG145:1/1 refers to the first folder in box 1. The papers are arranged by record type. Photocopies of newspaper clippings and other fragile papers have been provided for research use. The originals, which are encased in mylar sleeves in separate folders, should not be handled.

Series 1, General correspondence files, consists mainly of business correspondence. Much of the correspondence are testimonials, either to Gamma Photo Labs or Pallas himself. There is little personal correspondence, and no outgoing letters written by Pallas.

Series 2, Biographical and personal files, contains materials relating to Pallas’ life, including articles written by Janet Ginsburg, material related to the friendship between Pallas and W. Eugene Smith, and family photographs.

Series 3, Activity files, is broken into two subseries: Exhibition files and Project files. These include publications, announcements, newspaper clippings, and other materials related to Pallas’ professional life. The first subseries deals largely with exhibitions both organized by Pallas and featuring Pallas’ work. The second subseries consists of documentation of two assignments, one in Cuba for Playboy magazine, and the other for the Harlem Globetrotters basketball teams.

Series 4, Publications, consists of articles about Pallas or illustrated with his photographs.

Series 5, Business and financial records, is broken down into four subseries. The first contains information on Gamma Photo Labs, the photo processing business run by Pallas and his wife until it was sold in 1972. The second subseries includes materials related to the photography gallery founded by Pallas in 1973, the Center for Photographic Arts. The third subseries contains materials related to Pallas Photographica Gallery. The fourth subseries consists of miscellaneous invoices and financial information.

Series 6, Photographic materials, makes up the bulk of the Pallas archive and contains negatives, contact sheets, miscellaneous contact sheets and negatives, transparencies, and study prints. These are separated into five corresponding subseries. Corresponding negatives and contact sheets are organized using a “twin-check numbering system.” Appendix D, Inventory of negatives, provides a guide to the negatives and contact sheets organized using the twin-check number system.

Series 7, Other materials, contains five subseries that include largely audiovisual materials and artifacts. Subseries 1 contains Audiotapes and is broken into two sub-subseries: Interviews, with Pallas promoting the Center for Photographic Arts in 1974, and Entertainment, containing twenty-seven reel-to-reel tapes of jazz, classical, popular music, and some opera. Subseries 2, Films, contains twenty-three films mainly depicting Pallas family life and in poor condition. Fifteen of these films have been duplicated to videotape. Subseries 3, Videotapes, contains five 3/4" videotapes that are reference copies of the Pallas family films in Subseries 2. Subseries 4, Artifacts, contains medals and certificates given to Pallas. Subseries 5, Miscellaneous, contains original envelopes used to store negative packets and slide cases from Gamma and Pallas Photo Labs.

Series 8, 2004 Accrual, consists of photographs by and of Mickey Pallas.

Series 9, 2005 Accrual, contains mounted proof prints.

There are five Appendices: Appendix A, Chronological list of exhibitions, organized by year and including work by Mickey Pallas; Appendix B, Photographs, in the master print collection at the Center for Creative Photography; Appendix C, Vendors, a list based on vendors represented in the invoice files in the Business and financial records subseries; Appendix D, Inventory of negatives; and Appendix E, Selective index to the general correspondence. Please scroll down and click on the linked "External Document" to view appendices containing additional information, including an inventory index of the negatives and a chronological list of exhibitions.


  • circa 1920-1996


Language of Materials

Material in English

Conditions Governing Access

To access materials from this collection, please contact

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to Mickey Pallas photographs and texts is held by the Center for Creative Photography.

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

Mickey Pallas was the youngest of three children of Jewish Rumanian immigrants. His father David started out in America as a peddler, and never learned to read or write English. He owned a Rumanian restaurant on Chicago's West Side and was a wine merchant during Prohibition (Pallas recalled, "the police used to pull up in their cars and load them up with wine"). Pallas' mother, Jenny, was institutionalized (probably for depression) while Mickey was still an infant. He remembers visiting, with his sister Betty, his mother as a young boy. While growing up, he lived sometimes with his father, but also with his grandparents, Sarah and Moishe Pallas, who he called "Bubbe and Zaede." He has sweet memories of his grandparents, who were religious people. Mickey remembers going to the schvitz (traditional Jewish baths) with his grandfather. His sister Betty lived with their Aunt Rose (Mickey's father had three sisters: Rose, Pearl and Sophie); brother Louis lived with their grandparents.

In his early teens, Mickey was living with his father in a one-room apartment near the Marks Nathan Children's Home, a Jewish orphanage at Albany Avenue and 15th Street on Chicago's West Side. He observed life at the orphanage and, in 1929, moved there himself. The Home represented security and affection to Mickey. He lived there six years. While there, he learned to read and make music, sang as cantor in religious ceremonies, and was bar mitzvahed. While at Marks Nathan, Mickey joined the camera club and chipped in with another boy to buy a $1.25 Kodak camera. Mickey later recalled his experience at the Home as "the best thing that ever happened to me."

Residents at Marks Nathan attended Farragut High School; Pallas was among the 1934 graduates. It was the height of the Depression and opportunities were hard to come by. For the next ten years, Pallas held a number of jobs. He drove a truck for Manishewitz, sold insurance, ran a dry cleaning store, worked the assembly line for Studebaker (from 1941-1947, he chaired the Anti-Discrimination League of the United Auto Workers), was a labor organizer for CIO in the food and tobacco industry, and, in his spare time, led a band, "Mickey Pallas and his International Famous Orchestra." In 1937, he married fellow-Chicagoan Mildred Karp. Her family owned Karp's Deli at 16th Street and Homan in Chicago. During World War II, he volunteered for both the U. S. and British armies, but was rejected by both when a heart problem was detected during physical examination.

Mickey Pallas began his career as a commercial photographer in the mid-1940s when he bought a Speed Graphic camera and began doing freelance photographic work. His early work is typical of struggling photographers: babies, weddings and bar mitzvahs. Even these early images evidence the directness that became a trademark in Pallas' work. As his business became more successful, his subject matter became more sophisticated. Before long, Pallas counted Ebony and Sepia magazines, ABC-TV (most notably Studs Terkel's "Studs Place," and Morris B. Sachs' "Amateur Hour"), Standard Oil, Encyclopedia Britannica and the Harlem Globetrotters among his clients. Along the way, he met, photographed and befriended a number of well-known people: author Studs Terkel, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, fighter Joe Louis, and actor Ed Asner. Even when Pallas' subject matter was harsh, his images expressed the optimism that typified post-World War II America.

In 1959, displeased with the quality of photo processing available in the Chicago area, Pallas founded Gamma Photo Labs. Gamma began as a two-man operation and grew to 125 employees, quickly becoming one of the largest labs in the United States. When John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963, Gamma was headquarters for Life magazine's overnight photographic processing, resulting in the magazine's special issue covering the assassination. Once Gamma was on its feet, Mickey abandoned his commercial photography career and became a full-time businessman. In 1972, he sold Gamma to the Weiman Company; by then, Pallas was a wealthy man.

With Gamma in his past and the finances to pursue his dreams, Pallas established a fine photography gallery in Chicago. Pallas opened the Center for Photographic Arts in Chicago in 1973. The Center contained an exhibition hall with 2,300 square feet of main galleries on the first floor and 1,000 square feet more available upstairs, a bookstore, darkrooms and a research library for Chicago photographers. Pallas' dream also included eventually establishing a photography school, a dream he never realized. Despite good publicity and sterling intentions, the Center lasted less than a year. Pallas estimated huge losses. (See BUSINESS AND FINANCIAL RECORDS: CENTER FOR PHOTOGRAPHIC ARTS for complete list of exhibitions. See also EXHIBITIONS FILES.)

In 1978, Pallas opened Pallas Photographica Gallery. The gallery represented works by, among others, Boubat, Brassaï, Cameron, Coburn, Callahan, Curtis, Davidson, Drtikol, Evans, Felton, Genthe, Hine and Lartigue. (See BUSINESS AND FINANCIAL RECORDS: PALLAS PHOTOGRAPHICA GALLERY for complete list of exhibitions. See also EXHIBITIONS FILES.)

In 1979, Pallas suffered a stroke which left him temporarily without speech. At this time, operations of Pallas Photographica Gallery were apparently suspended. In 1984, a new gallery, Pallas Photo Gallery opened. This gallery was probably an appendage of Pallas Photo Labs, a business owned by Mickey's son, Rusty Pallas.

In 1980, Pallas hired Janet Ginsburg, a student at Indiana University, to help bring order to the vast archive of work he had created during the course of his commercial career. After graduation, Ginsburg supervised the completion of the project. She later put together a portfolio of photographs in an effort to secure an exhibition. In 1986 she co-curated (with Kenneth Burkhart of the Chicago Office of Fine Arts) Mickey Pallas: Photographs 1945-1960, the first retrospective exhibition of Pallas' work. Ginsburg began researching appropriate institutions for the possible placement of the archive, and in the early 1990s contacted the Center for Creative Photography. After Pallas’ death in 1997, Ginsburg continued to be actively involved in managing and promoting his work.

In 1980, Pallas hired Janet Ginsburg, a student at Indiana University, to help bring order to the vast archive of work he had created during the course of his commercial career. After graduation, Ginsburg supervised the completion of the project. She later put together a portfolio of photographs in an effort to secure an exhibition. In 1986 she co-curated (with Kenneth Burkhart of the Chicago Office of Fine Arts) Mickey Pallas: Photographs 1945-1960, the first retrospective exhibition of Pallas' work. Ginsburg began researching appropriate institutions for the possible placement of the archive, and in the early 1990s contacted the Center for Creative Photography. After Pallas’ death in 1997, Ginsburg continued to be actively involved in managing and promoting his work.

In a tribute to Pallas published in the exhibition catalog for his 1986 retrospective, Studs Terkel observed "Ever on the go, Mickey, with the gait and the build of a club fighter, was deceptively good. So good, that he captured, indelibly, a piece of our history." Pallas' success story is typical of the entrepreneurial attitudes of many first-generation Americans. And, as he recently reminisced, he "had a lot of fun."


Mickey Pallas was born in Belvidere, Illinois; joined sister Betty and brother Louis; grew up on Chicago's West Side
moved to Marks Nathan Jewish Children's Home in Chicago
graduated Farragut High School; midst of Depression
married Mildred Karp
daughter Gail born
refused by both British & U. S. armies for services in World War II because of bad heart; bought Speed Graphic and began freelance photography career; worked as freelancer for Our World magazine; covered Joe Louis in his training camp before the Billy Conn fight. Also worked for a string of Westside newspapers owned by Morris Kaplan (Westside Times, Lawndale News, Westown Herald); by late 1940s, Pallas counted Ebony, Sepia and Seventeen magazines among his clients.
son Rusty (David) born
photographed Henry Wallace campaign for presidency
joined American Society of Magazine Photographers; was a founding member of the Chicago chapter
work for Playboy magazine took him to Cuba to photograph works of sculptors Sepy Dobronyi and Juan Sierra
covered the Newport Jazz Festival for Playboy, resulting in some of his best-known images
opened Gamma Photo Labs on Superior Street, Chicago.
photographed Democratic and Republican convention
Mickey and Millie traveled to Europe, Southeast Asia and Greece
Pallas Photo Supply added to Gamma Photo Labs; complete camera shop specializing in camera rentals
Organized exhibition of 70 professional Chicago photographers, "Chicago Photo I," at the John Hancock Center, Chicago, May to June
Sold Gamma to Weiman Company
Sold Gamma to Weiman Company
Pallas opened the Center for Photographic Arts at 364 West Erie Street in Chicago in November; the gallery closed the following December.
Pallas suffered heart failure, had open heart surgery
Rusty Pallas (Mickey's son) opened Pallas Photo Lab at 319 West Erie Street in Chicago (eventually had additional offices at 207 East Buffalo in Milwaukee and 700 Kalamath in Denver)
Mickey opened Pallas Photographica Gallery, 315 West Erie Street, Chicago (next to son Rusty's Pallas Photo Lab)
Pallas suffered stroke which left him temporarily without speech
met Janet Ginsburg, a recent college graduate who became Pallas' assistant and helped spearhead recognition of Pallas' work
Millie Pallas died of cancer
Mickey married Pat Zimmerman
Janet Ginsburg and Kenneth Burkhart cocurated the first retrospective of Pallas' work, Mickey Pallas: Photographs 1945-1960, at the Chicago Public Library Cultural Center.
Mickey and Pat Pallas moved to Palm Springs, California
Pallas' images, along with pictures by Weegee, Lisette Model, Irving Haberman and Wilbert Blanche, were featured in the film, The Public Eye, which starred Joe Pesci.


45 Linear Feet

Metadata Rights Declarations

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


Papers (circa 1920-1995) of Mickey Pallas (1916-1997), photographer. Includes biographical materials, correspondence, publications, awards, memorabilia, exhibition files, financial papers, catalogs, study prints, photographs, negatives, and audiovisual materials related to Pallas’ career. Also documents Gamma Photo Labs, the Center for Photographic Arts, and Pallas Photographica Gallery, all owned by Pallas. After nearly 20 years of storage, the Mickey Pallas Archive was a gift from Mickey and Pat Pallas to the Center for Creative Photography in 1995. The collection is still active. It contains 45 linear feet of correspondence; biographical information; exhibition announcements; clippings; publications; financial records for Gamma Photo Labs, the Center for Photographic Arts and Pallas Photographica Gallery (all founded by Pallas); negatives, study and contact prints, and transparencies; and other materials documenting the life and career of Mickey Pallas.


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

Series 1: General correspondence files, 1959-1995, 6 folders

Series 2: Biographical and personal files, circa 1920-circa 1990, 3 boxes

Series 3: Activity files, 1950-1993, 1 box

  1. Subseries 1: Exhibition files, 1973-1993, 14 folders
  2. Subseries 2: Project files, 1950-1956, 3 folders

Series 4: Publications, n.d., 1932-1983, 2 boxes

Series 5: Business and financial records, n.d., 1965-1994, 3 boxes

  1. Subseries 1: Gamma Photo Labs, n.d., 1965-1975, 3 boxes
  2. Subseries 2: Center for Photographic Arts, n.d., 1973-1974, 2 boxes
  3. Subseries 3: Pallas Photographica Gallery, n.d., 1977-1979, 2 boxes
  4. Subseries 4: Miscellaneous, 1972-1994, 2 folders

Series 6: Photographic materials, n.d., 1940-1980, 87 boxes

  1. Subseries 1: Contact sheets, n.d., circa 1945-1980, 23 boxes
  2. Subseries 2: Negatives, n.d., circa 1945-1980, 42 boxes
  3. Subseries 3: Miscellaneous contact sheets and negatives, n.d., circa 1950s-1980, 3 boxes
  4. Subseries 4: Transparencies, n.d., circa 1945-1980, 18 boxes
  5. Subseries 5: Study prints, n.d., circa 1945-1965, 1 box

Series 7: Other materials, n.d., 1940-1978, 5 boxes

  1. Subseries 1: Audiotapes, n.d., 1940-1974, 1 box
  2. Sub-subseries 1: Interviews, 1974, 1 box
  3. Sub-subseries 2: Entertainment, n.d., 1940-1964, 1 box
  4. Subseries 2: Films, n.d., 1940-1975, 1 box
  5. Subseries 3: Videotapes, n.d., circa 1945-circa 1970, 1 box
  6. Subseries 4: Artifacts, n.d., 1960-1978, 1 box
  7. Subseries 5: Miscellaneous, n.d., 2 boxes

Series 8: 2004 Accrual, n.d., circa 1930s-circa 1996

Series 9: 2005 Accrual, n.d.

Appendix A: Chronological list of exhibitions

Appendix B: Photographs

Appendix C: Vendors

Appendix D: Inventory of negatives

Appendix E: Selective index to the general correspondence

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mickey Pallas, beginning in 1995. An accrual was received in 2004 from Pat Pallas, and an additional accrual was received in 2005 from Janet Ginsburg.


Accrual received in 2004 from Pat Pallas and additional accrual received in 2005 from Janet Ginsburg.

Processing Information

The Center for Creative Photography was able to process this material thanks in part to a grant from the Institute of Museum Services. This collection was processed by Dena McDuffie during the year beginning January 1996 and ending February 1997. First electronic version of the finding aid was created by Amy Rule in May 1997. The finding aid was updated by Caroline Ross in 2018, and again by Tai Huesgen in 2019.

Mickey Pallas archive circa 1920-1996
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