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Robert Sobieszek archive

Identifier: AG 232

Scope and Contents

The Robert Sobieszek collection consists of papers and materials associated with Robert A. Sobieszek’s career as curator of photography at George Eastman House and LACMA. The bulk of the collection is contained within the first three series: Research Files, Activity Files, and Publications.

Research Files spans from the year 1840 to 2004 and is arranged by subject. The series includes Sobieszek’s research materials related to photography, art, writing, physiognomy, science fiction, advertising, and new media. Sobieszek’s files document prominent figures as well as themes and topics associated with the subject. Materials within this series include newspaper and magazine articles, photocopied chapters of books, images, and some notes by Sobieszek.

Sobieszek’s files documenting his work as a curator, renowned scholar, and teacher have been collected in Activity Files, bulk 1844-2004. These materials include artist files, research materials, newspaper clippings, and institutional information (budgets, planning strategies, promotional material, etc.) related to Sobieszek’s projects, including his work related to William S. Burroughs, “Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul: 1850-2000”, and 19th century photography. Sobieszek’s work outside of George Eastman House and LACMA is documented within this series and includes files documenting various lectures and classes taught by Sobieszek.

Publications, bulk 1964-2004, includes books with texts written by Robert Sobieszek as well as books, exhibition catalogs, and related ephemera connected to Sobieszek’s work. Sobieszek’s interest in William S. Burroughs, physiognomy, and science fiction is specifically documented within this series. This series also contains some periodicals collected by Sobieszek, including almost a complete run of the Evergreen Review spanning from 1964-1971.

Photographic Materials, bulk circa 1945-2000 largely consists of slides used by Sobieszek in his lectures as well as negatives, and photographic equipment related to his curatorial work. This series also includes images from Sobieszek’s personal slide collection documenting various vacations.

19th and Early 20th Century Materials, bulk 1836- circa 1927, consists of Sobieszek’s collection of materials such as photo albums, cigarette cards, etchings, stereographs and other items. The series also contains publications collected by Sobieszek, including a first edition copy of Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animal by Charles Darwin and copies of 19th Century newspapers bound together by Sobieszek.

AV Materials, bulk 1977-2004, is largely made up of Sobieszek’s CD and VHS collections. These materials document Sobieszek’s work related to William S. Burroughs as well as the work of various other photographers. This series also contains a small amount of microfilm, moving image film, and Sobieszek’s computer disks.

Diaries includes Robert Sobieszek’s planning diaries from the years 1967, 1975-1990.

Artwork and Ephemera includes Sobieszek’s personal collection of postcards, both blank and addressed to Sobieszek, holiday greetings from photographers such as Thomas Barrow and John Pfahl, and various exhibition announcement. The series also includes several framed posters related to Sobieszek’s major exhibition projects including “Masterpieces of Photography from the George Eastman House Collection by Robert Sobieszek,” “Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul 1850-2000,” and “Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts.” The series also includes a significant amount of artwork created by Thomas Barrow, 19th century etchings collected by Sobieszek, and photographs taken by artists such as Bert Stern.


  • bulk 1983-2005


Language of Materials

Material in English French

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

Robert Sobieszek (1943-2005) was a diligent scholar, an active writer and lecturer, and a revered curator of photography. He began his career in 1968, working as a curatorial assistant at George Eastman House in New York after receiving a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Illinois in 1965. Sobieszek went on to earn a master’s degree in art history from Stanford University in 1969 and later, a master’s degree in philosophy from Columbia University in 1981.

During his time at the George Eastman House, Sobieszek began to work as an assistant professor of art history at the University of Rochester where he stayed until 1977. In 1976, Sobieszek simultaneously served as a visiting lecturer at the University of California, Santa Barbara and continued to teach classes related to the history of photography, science fiction, and William S. Burroughs at the University of Southern California.

In 1990, Sobieszek left Eastman House to serve as curator of photography at LACMA where he increased the museum’s collection of photographs from 2,700 to over 8,300 and mounted over 50 shows, including “Robert Smithson: Photo Works” in 1993, “The Camera I: Photographic Self-Portraits from the Audrey and Sidney Irmas Collection” in 1994, “P.L.A.N.: Photography Los Angeles Now” in 1995 with Tim B. Wride resulting in LACMA’S first internet exhibition catalog, “Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts” in 1996, and “Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul: 1950-2000” in 1999. That same year, Robert Sobieszek was asked to serve as an expert witness at the obscenity trials in Cincinnati in order to prove that Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs were, in fact, art.

In addition to his work at the George Eastman House and LACMA, Sobieszek was a prolific author. He wrote 10 books and edited or contributed to 90 others, including The Spirit of Fact: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth and Hawes in 1976, Masterpieces of Photography: From the George Eastman House Collections in 1985, and The Art of Persuasion: A History of Advertising Photography in 1988.

After nearly three decades of work, Robert Sobieszek passed away July 15, 2005 at the age of 62.


76.6 Linear Feet

Metadata Rights Declarations

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


Papers and materials, 1836-2005, collected and created by Robert A. Sobieszek (1943-2005) are associated with his career as curator of photography at George Eastman House and LACMA. The entire collection spans 76.6 linear feet, the bulk of which includes research materials, publications, and writings related to Sobieszek’s major book and exhibition projects, specifically focused on his work associated with William S. Burroughs, Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul, 1850-2000, and 19th C. Photography. The collection also includes Sobieszek’s teaching and lecture files as well as minimal amounts of biographical material.


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

Series 1: Research Files, 1840-1849, 1851-1863, 1866-1867, 1869-1871, 1873-1875, 1881-1882, 1884-1886, 1892-1893, 1899, 1902-1904, 1906, 1909, 1914-1920, 1922-1923, 1926-1929, 1931, 1933-1937, 1939-1940, 1942-1943, 1945, 1948-2004 (Boxes 1-16, 30; 20 linear feet)

  1. Subseries 1: Photographic Names and Themes
  2. Subseries 2: General Art Names and Themes
  3. Subseries 3: Writing Names and Themes
  4. Subseries 4: Physiognomy Names and Themes
  5. Subseries 5: [Science Fiction Names and Themes]
  6. Subseries 6: Advertising Names and Themes
  7. Subseries 7: New Media Names and Themes

Series 2: Activity Files, 1839-1860, 1862-1863, 1866, 1880, 1882-1884, 1889-1891, 1894-1895, 1897-1899, 1902-1908, 1914, 1930-1931, 1935, 1939, 1946, 1949, 1951, 1957-1960, 1962, 1964, 1966-2005 (Boxes 17-29; 16.25 linear feet)

  1. Subseries 1: Book and Exhibition Projects
  2. Sub-subseries 1: William S. Burroughs
  3. Sub-subseries 2: Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul, 1850-2000
  4. Sub-subseries 3: 19th C. Photography
  5. Subseries 2: LACMA Artist Files
  6. Subseries 3: Lectures, Writings, Appraisals, and Teaching Files
  7. Subseries 4: Misc. Files

Series 3: Publications, 1844, 1848, 1851-1853, 1855-1856, 1859, 1872, 1952, 1959, 1962, 1964-2000, 2002, 2004 (Boxes 31-40; 12.5 linear feet)

  1. Subseries 1: Books with texts by Robert Sobieszek
  2. Subseries 2: William S. Burroughs
  3. Sub-subseries 1: Publications by and about William S. Burroughs
  4. Sub-subseries 2: Exhibition Catalogs and Related Ephemera
  5. Sub-subseries 3: Misc. Publications, 1969, 1994, 1996, 1999
  6. Subseries 3: Physiognomy
  7. Sub-subseries 1: Books and Periodicals
  8. Sub-subseries 2: Exhibition Catalogues
  9. Subseries 4: Sci-Fi
  10. Sub-subseries 1: Books and Periodicals
  11. Sub-subseries 2: Exhibition Catalogues and Related Ephemera
  12. Subseries 5: Periodicals
  13. Sub-subseries 1: Evergreen Review
  14. Sub-subseries 2: Representations
  15. Sub-subseries 3: Misc. Periodicals

Series 4: Photographic Materials, circa 1945, 1962, 1969, 1971-1974, 1977, 1979, 1981-2000 (Boxes 41-45; 5.25 linear feet)

  1. Subseries 1: Slides
  2. Sub-subseries 1: Lecture and Exhibition Slides
  3. Sub-subseries 2: Pix Archive 89-90
  4. Sub-subseries 3: Misc. Slides
  5. Subseries 2: Negatives
  6. Subseries 3: Photographic Equipment

Series 5: 19th and Early 20th C. Materials, 1836, 1844, 1848, 1851-1856, 1858-circa 1860, circa 1870s, 1872, 1882, 1887, 1892, circa 1900, 1903-1904, circa 1906, circa 1910, circa 1914, 1922, circa 1927 (Boxes 46-48; 3.5 linear feet)

  1. Subseries 1: Photo albums
  2. Subseries 2: Publications
  3. Subseries 3: Misc. Materials

Series 6: AV Materials, 1964, 1971, 1974, 1977-1978, 1980-2004 (Boxes 49-52; 5 linear feet)

  1. Subseries 1: CDs
  2. Sub-subseries 1: William S. Burroughs Audio CDs
  3. Sub-subseries 2: Artist CDs
  4. Sub-subseries 3: Misc. CDs
  5. Subseries 2: VHS Tapes
  6. Subseries 3: Audio Cassettes
  7. Subseries 4: Microfilm
  8. Subseries 5: Moving Image Film
  9. Sub-subseries: 8mm Film
  10. Sub-subseries 2: 35mm Film, undated
  11. Subseries 6: Computer Disks
  12. Sub-subseries 1: Floppy Disks
  13. Sub-subseries 2: 5 ¼ inch Diskettes
  14. Subseries 7: Misc. Materials
  1. Series 7: Diaries, 1967, 1975-1990 (Box 53, 0.6 linear feet)

Series 8: Artwork and Ephemera, 1836, 1838-1839, 1843, 1845, 1859-1860, 1873, 1876, 1880, 1886, 1892, 1894-1895, 1898, circa 1900, 1902, 1905-1914, 1919, 1924, 1926-1927, 1930, 1933-1934, circa 1937, 1939-1940, 1943-1944, 1946-1947, 1950, 1954-1955, 1959, 1961-2005 (Boxes 54-63; 13.5 linear feet)

  1. Subseries 1: Postcard Collection
  2. Subseries 2: Holiday Greetings
  3. Subseries 3: Exhibition Announcements
  4. Subseries 4: Framed Artwork
  5. Subseries 5: Misc. Artwork
  6. Subseries 6: Misc. Artifacts

Custodial History

The archive was a gift from Robert Sobieszek’s widow, Sarah Lee, in 2010.


  1. Sobieszek, Robert A., 1943-2005 []
  2. Burroughs, William S., 1914-1997 []
  3. Los Angeles County Museum of Art []
  4. George Eastman House []

Processing Information

Initial processing and box inventories created in 2010. Research Files were partially processed by Leah Rios in May, 2016. Final arrangement and description of the collection completed by Lenox Wiese in the summer and fall of 2016.

Robert Sobieszek Archive 1836-2005
Finding aid created by Lenox Wiese
© 2020
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