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Alma Lavenson archive

Identifier: AG 212

Scope and Contents

The Alma Lavenson Archive contains the personal papers and photographic materials of the photographer Alma Lavenson (1897-1989). The materials in the archive date from 1894-1990 with the bulk of the materials from 1920-1985. The archive consists of correspondence, biographical materials, travel journals, scrapbooks, exhibition files, project files, publications, and photographic materials including an extensive collection of negatives. Please see the archivist for a selected exhibition history list.


  • circa 1894-1990


Language of Materials

Material in English

Conditions Governing Access

To access materials from this collection, please contact

Conditions Governing Access

The negatives in boxes 8 through 12 are currently inaccessible due to renovations in CCP's cold storage facility. Negatives will be accessible once the renovation is complete and the negative boxes have been transferred to the new frozen storage space. The estimated date of availability is mid-year of 2023, although not guaranteed. Please be sure to email with any questions or for updates.

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

Lavenson was born in San Francisco in 1897. She was the only child of Albert Lavenson and Amy Furth. Albert Lavenson was the son of German immigrants and the co-owner of the successful Capwell Department Store in San Francisco. Lavenson attended private and public schools in San Francisco and later graduated from UC Berkeley in 1919 with a degree in psychology. At this time she began to take her first photographs.

In 1922 Alma travelled all over Europe for seven months and kept a careful travel journal which she later typed and illustrated entitled “My Discovery of Europe”. By 1923 Lavenson had learned to develop and print her own photographs by watching a technician at a drug store. She later acquired a homemade enlarger from a friend and set up a darkroom in her home. She photographed with a 3 ¼ x 4 ¼ Ensign Popular Reflex camera which she outfitted with a soft-focus Waterbury lens (in collection). Lavenson had no formal photographic training, but avidly read photography magazines and books on composition. By 1926 Lavenson was photographing extensively in the Bay Area, including industrial subjects. Lavenson’s father was friends with art Patron Albert Bender, who was instrumental in introducing Lavenson to the San Francisco photographic community (1930), and encouraged Lavenson to meet and purchase work by Diego Rivera when she travelled to Mexico (1926).

In 1927 Lavenson’s piece The light beyond (Zion Canyon) was published on the front cover of Photo-era magazine. Throughout the early 1930s Lavenson’s work was frequently published in Photo-era and Camera craft. In 1930 Lavenson’s father, by then a prominent figure and philanthropist in the Oakland community, died from a heart attack. At this point Albert Bender supplied Lavenson with letters of introduction to Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and Consuelo Kanaga. Lavenson befriended Kanaga and Cunningham, and the three photographed extensively together. Cunningham became a life-long friend and a great influence on Lavenson’s photography. The archive contains photographs of Lavenson and her family by Cunningham. Based on critiques from Edward Weston and urging from Cunningham, Lavenson eventually abandoned her soft-focus lens and began working in straight photography.

By 1931 Lavenson was exhibiting in pictorialist salons nationally and internationally. In April, 1932 she had a one-person exhibit at the California Camera Club. Later in 1932 Lavenson was included in three important exhibitions: Showing of hands, California trees and the inaugural exhibit of the f/64 group all at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. In 1933 Lavenson had one-person exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum and the de Young Museum. Lavenson’s early exhibitions are documented in her scrapbooks, correspondence, and exhibition files.

In 1933 Lavenson married attorney Matt Wahrhaftig. She changed her name to Alma Wahrhaftig, but continued to use Lavenson for all photographic work. Alma and Matt had two boys Paul and Albert. Matt Wahrhaftig died in 1957 and Lavenson never remarried. Lavenson’s personal life is documented in biographical materials and extensive prints of Lavenson and her family.

Lavenson’s long-term project photographing gold-rush ghost towns in the Mother Lode region began around 1933 and spanned over forty years. The Alma Lavenson Archive includes an extensive collection of negatives from the Mother Lode, in addition to project files relating to a proposed book on the Mother Lode in collaboration with historian Richard Dillion in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1978, Jean Tucker, University of Missouri-St. Louis, organized a recreation of the 1932 f/64 exhibition, which triggered a renewed interest in the photography of Alma Lavenson and retrospective exhibits of her work. A second scrapbook, included in the Lavenson Archive, documents this second prolific phase in Lavenson’s career as a photographer.


16 Boxes (12 linear)

Metadata Rights Declarations

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


Papers and photographic materials, 1894-1990, of Alma Lavenson (1897-1989), photographer. Includes negatives, prints, biographical materials, correspondence, scrapbooks, travel journals, and photographic equipment. (12 linear feet)


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Series 1: Correspondence, 1942-1988, 1 box
  2. Series 2: Biographical Materials, 1894-1985, 8 boxes
  3. Subseries 1: Personal Materials Related to Alma Lavenson, 1915-1985
  4. Subseries 2: Portraits of Alma Lavenson, Family, and Friends 1894-1990
  5. Subseries 3: Travel Journal and Letters Home
  6. Subseries 4: Scrapbooks
  7. Series 3: Travel Journals and Letters Home, 1922-1972, 1 box
  8. Series 4: Scrapbooks, 1927-1987, 2 boxes
  9. Series 5: Exhibitions, 1934-1986, 1 box
  10. Series 6: Project Files, 1978-1981, 1 box
  11. Series 7: Publications, 1979, 1 box
  12. Series 8: Photographic Materials
  13. Subseries 1: Negatives
  14. Subseries 2: Photographs
  15. Subseries 3: Photographic Equipment
  16. Appendix A: List of Negatives

Custodial History

Gift of Albert Wahrhaftig and Paul Wahrhaftig, sons of Alma Lavenson, starting in 2006.


  1. Cunningham, Imogen
  2. Lavenson, Alma
  3. Photography

Processing Information

Processed by Molly Stothert-Maurer. Completed October, 2010. Finding aid update by Phoenix Smithey in 2017.


Alma Lavenson archive circa 1894-1990
Finding aid updated by Phoenix Smithey
© 2018
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