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John Yang collection

Identifier: AG 260

Scope and Contents

Series One, Correspondence, 1948, 1950-2009, includes personal correspondence, professional correspondence, press clippings, and other materials related to Yang’s exhibitions, museum gifts/sales, and publications. Notable correspondence includes: Personal correspondence with Helen Gee, Arthur C. Holden, Rudolph Simmon (inventor of Simmons Omega enlarger), and letters with lifelong friend and photographer David Sapir, during college years -- talks about subscribing to Aperture, photos taken, job selling Good Humor ice cream, etc. Given to Naomi Yang in 2014 by David Sapir. Also letters with/about Tim Asch (who, with David Sapir were Yang's photo friends in high school. Yang went to Minor White's school with Tim Asch).

Series Two, Biographical Materials, n.d., 1946, c. 1960’s-1970’s includes photographs, scrapbooks, studio files, personal items, and other documents related to Yang’s early life.

Series Three, Project Files, n.d., 1951, 1966, 1969, 1971-2006 is separated into two subseries: Photography Career and Architecture Career. Photography Career contains materials related to Yang’s Mount Zion Cemetery project, Over the Door project, Calligraphic Studies project, Innisfree project, as well as annotated maps of trails and parks related to Yang’s work.

Architecture Career contains drawings, models, photographs, and other documentation of various architecture projects, including the Turin House, and Boys Brotherhood Republic Project.

Series Four, Technical Files and Equipment, c. 1970’s – 1990’s includes materials related to Yang’s photographic and darkroom processes. Present are technical manuals, Yang’s darkroom notebooks, and oval mat cutter.

Series Five, Publications, n.d., 1915-1916, 1920, 1924, 1927, 1937, 1942, 1945, 1953, 1962, 1965-1991, 1995-2007, 2010 includes materials related to photography, and the landscape of New England: travel information, maps, trail books and notes, collected and annotated by John Yang as research for his photography career. Also present are mockups for publication by Yang.

Series Six, Photographic Materials, n.d., 1962-1964, 1971-1972, 1974-2004 is separated into three subseries: Calligraphic Studies, Printing Files, and Contact Sheets & Proof Prints. The appendix includes detailed information about the Calligraphic Studies prints. John Yang did not have any studio assistants; all photographs are printed by him.

Yang’s Calligraphic Studies were “taken in the overgrown parks of New York City’s outer boroughs, and in the ‘wild gardens’ found in the nature preserves and sanctuaries situated within New York’s metropolitan region.”[from calligraphic studies album]

Printing Files contain a record of the specifics of type of print, chemistry, dodging, burning etc. that he did for every print of a given negative. It also contains all copies of these prints, except those that were removed for mounting and/or sale. Each print has a number indicating printing session and printing sequence. These are inconsistently notated with numbers, letters, numbers with subscripts, etc.

Contact Sheets & Proof Print boxes were not in the original inventory. Materials include contact sheets and proof prints for various photographic projects, and are arranged by project and date.


  • 1915-2010, bulk 1960's-2009


Language of Materials

Material in English

Conditions Governing Access

To access materials from this collection, please contact

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by Naomi Yang.

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

John Yang was born April 16, 1933, in Suchow, China. His father was a doctor educated in Germany and his grandfather was a successful Shanghai businessman. His family emigrated to England in 1937, and then to America in 1939. Yang grew up in New York City. He was a naturalized U.S. citizen.

When he was 13, he received his first camera, an Argoflex, a present from his father. He was smitten and thereafter hooked on photography. His first published picture (a winter landscape) appeared on the cover of his school magazine. He was initially attracted to the work of the Pictorialists, and later to that of the Purists (Weston, Strand and Cartier-Bresson — through MOMA's monographs). America and Alfred Stieglitz, a book of essays about Stieglitz and his time, made a lasting impression upon him.

In 1951, after his freshman year at college, Yang traveled cross-country to take Minor White's summer class at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. He was taught the rudiments of view camera technique and Ansel Adams' Zone System. White would on occasion show his own photographs in class. They were usually works in progress, and always shown without comment. Yang especially admired White's sequence of seascapes taken along the California coast.

Yang went to Harvard College, majored in philosophy, and graduated in 1954. His thesis, The Philosophy of the Present, was about the American philosopher George Herbert Mead. He went on to the University of Pennsylvania where he obtained his professional degree in architecture in 1957. He then served a stint in the U.S. Army in Germany, where he bought a Leica, his first 35mm camera. After his discharge, he remained in Europe to take photographs.

Upon his return to New York, he commenced his practice of architecture, first as a draftsman, and eventually as a partner in his own architectural firm: Holden, Yang, Raemsch & Corser. Although he liked designing private houses, the bulk of his practice consisted of public housing and institutional projects. He photographed for publication the buildings he designed, and when he found the time, took pictures for himself. Many were of his wife and children.

Yang had his first solo exhibition at Norbert Kleber's Underground Gallery in New York in 1965. The pictures were taken in a fishing village in Brittany, France. In that same year, the Museum of Modern Art bought a photograph of his and included it in its exhibition, New Acquisitions. This was his first sale of a photograph. In 1967, he was included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition, Photography in the Fine Arts. At his second exhibition at the Underground Gallery in 1969, he showed pictures taken in his lunch hours in the streets around where he worked.

A portfolio of his photographs was featured in 1969 in Infinity, the magazine of the American Society of Magazine Photographers (ASMP); and in 1978, a gravure portfolio, "Visions of Innocence," featured in Popular Photography magazine.

In 1978 Yang retired from architectural practice.

From 1979 to 1990, Yang was represented by the Marcuse Pfeifer Gallery in New York. His exhibition in 1981, Landscapes-Westchester Co, Fairfield Co, Lake Mohonk, presented his "calligraphic" studies undertaken in the parks, nature preserves and sanctuaries (his "wild gardens") in the New York metropolitan region.

His exhibitions, Innisfree Garden in 1986, and The Golf Course as Landscape Art in 1989, featured extended panoramic photographs resembling Chinese scroll paintings. However, the photographs were meant to be viewed as a whole, and not, as with scrolls, sequentially in part. The photographs were taken with a Cirkut No. 10, a spring-powered rotating camera built in 1903. In its 360- degree scans, the camera records a scene from within the scene itself.

From 1989 through 1993, Yang photographed the ornamental sandstone relief portraits over the doorways of New York City's brownstones and remaining tenements. This project culminated in his first book, Over the Door: The Ornamental Stonework of New York (Princeton Architectural Press, 1995).

From 1994 to 1997, Yang photographed the miniature photographic portraits, called ‘enamels,' placed on the tombstones of Mount Zion, an orthodox Jewish cemetery sandwiched between the Long Island Expressway and a Sanitation plant in Queens, New York. This project resulted in his second book, Mount Zion: Sepulchral Portraits (D.A.P., 2001).

Starting in 2001, Yang photographed John Boyd Thacher State Park near Albany, New York. The park is situated on the Helderberg Escarpment, a long and prominent ridge overlooking the Mohawk-Hudson Valley. A path, called the "Indian Ladder Trail," once traversed the ridge. With an 11" x 14" view camera, Yang photographed along the remnant of the trail which today lies within the boundaries of the park.

John Yang died September 28, 2009.


63 Boxes

35 Linear Feet

Metadata Rights Declarations

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


Materials relating to the photographic career of John Yang (1933-2009), includes photographs, project files, correspondence, papers, publications, detailed technical and darkroom notes, and ephemera. There is also a selection of material relating to Yang’s architecture career.


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Series 1: Correspondence, 1948, 1950-2009
  2. Series 2: Biographical Materials, n.d., 1946, c. 1960’s-1970’s
  3. Series 3: Project Files, n.d., 1951, 1966, 1969, 1971-2006
  4. Subseries 1: Photography Career, n.d., 1951, 1966, 1969, 1971-1973, 1977-2006
  5. Subseries 2: Architecture Career, n.d., circa 1970’s
  6. Series 4: Technical Files and Equipment, c. 1970’s -1990’s
  7. Series 5: Publications, n.d., 1915-1916, 1920, 1924, 1927, 1937, 1942, 1945, 1953, 1962, 1965-1991, 1995-2007, 2010
  8. Series 6: Photographic Materials, n.d., 1962-1964, 1971-1972, 1974-2004
  9. Subseries 1: Calligraphic Studies, 1977-2003
  10. Subseries 2: Printing Files, 1978-2004
  11. Subseries 3: Contact Sheets and Proof Prints, n.d., 1962-1964, 1971-1972, 1974-1977, 1985-1987

Custodial History

The archive was donated to the Center by Naomi Yang in 2017.

Related Materials

Photographs can be found in the Fine Print Collection. Please see archivist for details.

Photographs and other materials can also be found at the Robert Klein Gallery in Boston as well as the New York Public Library.

Processing Information

All handwriting on prints and on archival boxes is by John Yang. Any mountings or mats are also by Yang

Collection processed by Alexis Peregoy in 2018-2019, and Sarah Jardini in 2019.

AG 260 John Yang collection, 1915-2010, bulk 1960s-2009
Finding aid created by Alexis Peregoy and Sarah Jardini
© 2019
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