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Adolf Fassbender collection

Identifier: AG 168

Scope and Contents

The Adolf Fassbender archive contains the personal papers and photographic materials of the noted pictorial photographer Adolf Fassbender (1884-1980). The materials in the archive date from 1898-1999 with the bulk of the collection dating from 1930-1960. The archive consists of biographical materials, memorabilia, correspondence, financial records, activity files, audio visual materials, and photographic materials. The Center's fine print collection holds 400 fine prints by Fassbender and another 400 study prints.


  • 1898-1999


Language of Materials

Material in English German

Conditions Governing Access

To access materials from this collection, please contact

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for the Adolf Fassbender papers and photographs is held by the Center for Creative Photography. Permission for any reproduction of materials in the archive must be obtained from the Center's Rights and Reproductions department. Questions regarding literary rights should be directed to the Center’s Research Center.

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

Adolf Fassbender was born in Cologne, Germany, on May 3, 1884, the son of a wine merchant and one of thirteen children. Although his schooling had groomed him to enter the field of electrical engineering, Fassbender became a photographer's apprentice in 1897. Fassbender became a professional photographer in 1901, after four years and success in his examinations. After a stint in the German army, he entered art school in Dresden where he studied painting through the use of water colors, pastels, and oils. His first job was in a photographic studio in Vienna where he took portraits of an elite clientele and specialized in what he called "carbon miniature painting on ivory." Fassbender left Vienna in 1908 and took positions in photographic studios in Austria, Germany, and Belgium. It was in Antwerp that he introduced old photographic processes to his work such as carbon, gum, platinum, and the use of the paper negative. Very little material from this period exists in the archive.

Fassbender became associated with the Selby Sisters Studio in New York City in 1912. He opened his own studio on Fifth Avenue in New York in 1924. In 1925, Fassbender photographed a total eclipse of the sun, and this picture received the highest award in an international competition of paintings, etchings, and photographs at the American Museum of Natural History. The archive has the original eclipse negative and several copy negatives as well as several prints of the eclipse image. There is no material in the archive related to the Selby Sisters Studio.

From 1928 to 1930, Fassbender began his famous photographic lectures to large professional gatherings at conventions. Fassbender’s lectures are well documented in the archive and span the years from 1933-1970. Also during these years, Fassbender imported and introduced the use of tuma gas paper that permitted the printing of warm and sepia tones by direct development. He also made several improvements in the light source for enlargers which permitted the use of the newly introduced chloro-bromide papers.

In 1929, Fassbender began to teach artistic photography at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. His course taught sixty-seven different subjects in six classes of two semesters each year. Fassbender’s teaching materials comprise a significant portion of the archive and include his teaching notes, the notes taken by several students taking his classes, and many of the materials he used to illustrate the techniques and concepts outlined in his courses. In spite of the professional level of his course, the response from studio operators was meager, and he turned his attention to pictorial instruction to individual students from all over the United States and Europe. With a number of his former students, Fassbender formed the Pictorial Forum, the organization that claimed to succeed in having photography recognized as Art by artists, museums, and other art organizations in 1930. Material specifically related to the Pictorial Forum is not part of the collection, although references to it and its accomplishments may appear in Fassbender’s writings and lectures.

In 1937, Fassbender published his book Pictorial Artistry: The Dramatization of the Beautiful. It featured 8 1/4" by 11" photogravures in the original colors of the toned photographs themselves. At that time this book and three Fassbender prints were added to the collections of the Smithsonian Institution. The archive includes a slightly imperfect copy of this book. At the 1939-1940 World's Fair, Fassbender entered a photographic competition and his picture of the Fair's emblem, Trylon and Perisphere, was titled "Dynamic Symbol" and won top honors. The archive includes several commendatory letters from the Fair’s organizers as well as the award certificate itself. During the 1930s and 1940s Fassbender became known as the world's leading pictorial photographer and the “teacher of teachers.” His teaching notes and materials are well documented within the collection’s holdings.

Fassbender was active in a number of photographic organizations, most notably the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, where he received sequentially the society's Associateship, Fellowship, and Honorary Fellowship. He assisted them with a major international exhibition and served as Overseas Representative to the Council. The collection includes considerable correspondence with the Society, and is arranged in the Activity files. He was a charter member of the Photographic Society of America and received their award of Honorary Fellow.

Fassbender’s works were featured in numerous exhibitions throughout his working career. Papers related to these exhibitions have been filed chronologically due the manner in which the archive was arranged before its arrival at the Center. These papers give the titles of the prints shown as well as the venue and date of the exhibition. In 1972, Fassbender presented a collection of thirty-eight of his outstanding master prints to the Photographic Society of America. A separate folder documents this exhibition. Nearly all of Fassbender’s lectures were illustrated with examples of his prints, and these print lists accompany his lecture notes.

From 1946 to 1951, Fassbender again took up the teaching of photography. He taught numerous courses at the Y.M.C.A. in Brooklyn, New York. In the mid-1950s Fassbender taught photography at the Winona School of Professional Photography. There he became aware of the demand for technical instruction and control work, and offered intensive courses over five day periods for groups organized in all parts of the country.

During his long and active life of teaching, lecturing, demonstrating, exhibiting, and writing, "Papa" Fassbender, as he was called, received enthusiastic recognition and a number of awards, including honorary fellowship in the Royal Photographic Society (1946), honorary fellowship in the Photographic Society of America (1948), Honorary Master of Photography by the Professional Photographers of America (1951), and many, many others. Many of these are included in the archive.

Fassbender lived for much of his career in New York City and, in 1945, moved to Sussex County, New Jersey. His house was called Backachers and overlooked Lake Mohawk. His wife Franke Fassbender was intimately involved with his career and served as his assistant, secretary, and companion. The archive includes material related to Franke and the Fassbender’s house in Sparta in the Biographical materials as well as in the Photographic materials.

Fassbender died on January 2, 1980 at the age of 95, much mourned by the more than eighteen thousand students that had learned from him over the long span of his career.


51.5 Linear Feet

Metadata Rights Declarations

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


Papers and photographic materials, 1898-1999, of Adolf Fassbender (1884-1980), photographer and teacher. Includes correspondence, writings, publications, notebooks, artifacts, award certificates and plaques, scrapbooks, financial records, and photographic materials including glass, film, and paper negatives, transparencies, photographs, and composites of etched glass or plastic plates and film negatives.


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Series 1: Biographical material, n.d., 1898-1996, 13 boxes
  2. Series 2: Posthumous materials, n.d., 1980-1997, 1 box
  3. Series 3: Memorabilia, n.d., 1926-1980, 4 boxes
  4. Series 4: Correspondence, n.d., 1907-1984, 2 boxes
  5. Series 5: Financial records, n.d., 1932-1979, 2 boxes

Series 6: Activity files, n.d., 1913-1990, 16 boxes

  1. Subseries 1: Exhibitions, n.d., 1937-1990, 5 folders
  2. Subseries 2: Interviews, judging and writing, n.d., 1936-1977, 3 boxes
  3. Subseries 3: Research files, n.d., 1913-1980, 2 boxes
  4. Subseries 4: Lectures, n.d., 1930-1981, 4 boxes
  5. Subseries 5: Organizations, n.d., 1929-1986, 1 box
  6. Subseries 6: Teaching, n.d., 1941-1962, 3 boxes
  7. Subseries 7: Travel files, n.d., 1951-1955, 1 box
  8. Subseries 8: Teaching materials, n.d., 5 boxes
  1. Series 7: Artifacts, n.d., 1955, 4 boxes
  2. Series 8: Publications, n.d., 1931-1987, 3 boxes
  3. Series 9: Clippings, n.d., 1931-1979, 1 box
  4. Series 10: Personal library, n.d., 1904-1978, 2 boxes
  5. Series 11: Oversized materials, n.d., 1935-1999, 2 boxes
  6. Series 12: Audio-visual material, n.d., 1959-1987, 2 boxes

Series 13: Photographic material, n.d., 1938-1988, 38 boxes

  1. Subseries 1:Negatives – black and white, n.d., 1938-1988, 13 boxes
  2. Subseries 2: Negatives – color, n.d., 1959-1971, 1 box
  3. Subseries 3: Transparencies, n.d., 1965-1972, 7 boxes
  4. Subseries 4: Contact prints, n.d., 1 box
  5. Subseries 5: Work prints, n.d., 2 boxes
  6. Subseries 6: Photographic artifacts, n.d., 4 boxes

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was a gift from the Fassbender Foundation to the Center for Creative Photography in 1998.

Processing Information

Processed in 2001 and 2002 by Shaw Kinsley with the assistance of Nova O’Brien.

Work prints AG168:78A –L added to collection when fine print photographs were cataloged, August 2012.

Finding aid updated by Paige Hilman in January 2018 and by Tai Huesgen in June 2020.

Adolf Fassbender collection 1898-1999
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