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John Wolbarst collection

Identifier: AG 61

Scope and Contents

The bulk of this collection consists of original black-and-white Polaroid prints, Polaroid Copy Service copy negatives, and prints and enlargements made from the copy negatives. These materials were gathered or created by John Wolbarst between 1954 and 1981. The collection also includes a lesser amount of release forms, correspondence, and publications.

The collection was received thoroughly organized and cataloged by Wolbarst. He provided a catalog that contains detailed descriptions of the origin and condition of each photograph. This description includes film type, dates, subject, formal elements, technical data, and condition of print or negative. Wolbarst also included pertinent information on how the collection was assembled, organized, and used by him, as well as autobiographical information. This catalog is located in the control file; consult the Photographic Archive Librarian.

The collection is in three parts. Part I consists of about 1,200 original black-and-white Polaroid photographs by 60 photographers. Among the photographers represented are Ansel Adams, Dr. Harold Edgerton, Peter Gowland, Philippe Halsman, Pirckle Jones, Man ray, Beaumont Newhall, Weegee, and Brett Weston. All of these photographs were collected by Wolbarst between 1954 and 1961 when he was Managing Editor, and, later, Consulting Editor, of Modern Photography. These prints have been moved to the Fine Print Collection of the Center of Creative Photography.

Part II consists of black-and-white copy prints and negatives of 1,176 Polaroid prints by 58 photographers. There is not a precise original/copy match. Some originals were not copied and some Ansel Adams originals were returned to Adams after Wolbarst copied them for use in Polaroid Portfolio #1. Included in Part II are 101 “Permission to Publish Forms,” authorizing publications of some of the images in Polaroid Portfolio #1, written by Wolbarst and published by American Photographic Book Company (New York), in 1959. Most of these forms include notes by the photographers regarding the subjects, location, lighting, exposure, and a copy of the photograph to be reproduced. Included also are 225 4x5 inch, 5x7 inch, and 8x10 inch enlargements of some of the original Polaroid prints, and some original and photocopied correspondence between John Wolbarst and Ansel Adams, Philippe Halsman, Dr. Roman Vishniac, and Weegee. Part II also includes two 1961 issues of America Illustrated magazine; one in Russian and the other in Polish, which incorporated Wolbarst’s work in an article about the Polaroid land process.

This collection includes copies of Wolbarst’s three books, but does not contain any of his writings about the Polaroid process which appeared in periodicals and monographs, nor is there any material relating to his exhibition of Polaroid prints.

Part III of the collection contains 800 black-and-white Polaroid photographs and 58 negatives made by John Wolbarst. Although Part III spans the years 1954 – 1981, the bulk of the material dates from 1955 – 1963, when Wolbarst was actively writing books and articles on instant photography. Subjects include Wolbarst’s travels in Europe, Canada, Israel and Greece; commercial projects; New York and marine scenes; and friends and acquaintances. Many of these photographs were used to illustrate books and articles written by Wolbarst and others.

Many film types and sizes of Polaroid films are represented in all parts of the collections. Included are Types 41, 42, 43, 44, 46, 47, 52, 53, and 55, and sizes 2 ¼ x 2 1.4 inch, 2 ½ x 3 ¼ inch, 3 ¼ x 4 ¼ inch, and 4 x 5 inch. The photographs were made on both sheet and roll film, and all are black-and-white (23 are transparencies). In his catalog, Wolbarst provides descriptions of these various types of films and their technical and historical significance.


  • 1954-1981


Language of Materials

Material in English Polish Russian

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

1915 Born

1950 Makes his first Polaroid picture

1951 – 1965 Managing editor and, later, Consulting editor of Modern Photography; writes many articles on instant photography as well as 122 monthly columns titled Pictures in a Minute (later, Pictures in a Moment).

1956 Produces book Pictures in a Minute

1959 Produces book Polaroid Portfolio #1

1962 Produces book How to Make Better Polaroid Pictures with Your J66 or J33 Polaroid Land Camera

1965 Exhibition of his Polaroid photographs at Modernage gallery (New York); joins Polaroid Corporation

1980 Retires from executive management position with Polaroid Corporation


5.5 Linear Feet

Metadata Rights Declarations

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


Polaroid photographs collected by and made by John Wolbarst (1915 – 1986), author, editor, and photographer; also correspondence and printed matter relating to the collection. Includes about 1,200 original black-and-white Polaroid photographs by 60 photographers, gathered by Wolbarst between 1954 and 1961, plus copy negatives and copy prints of the originals. Includes also about 800 original black-and-white Polaroid prints and about 65 original Polaroid negatives by Wolbarst. The collection is inactive.


This collection has been designated Archive Group (AG) 61, and has been arranged according to the following outline:

  1. Series 1: Original Polaroid Prints, 1954-1961
  2. Series 2: Copy Prints, 1954-1961
  3. Series 3: Enlargements, circa 1958-1959
  4. Series 4: Permission to Publish Forms, 1959
  5. Series 5: Correspondence, 1959
  6. Series 6: Periodicals
  7. Series 7: Prints by John Wolbarst, 1954-1981

Custodial History

John Wolbarst gave this collection to the Center for Creative Photography in two parts; the first in 1982 and 1983, the second in 1984.

Separated Materials

About 1,200 original black-and-white Polaroid prints by various artists were transferred to the Center for Creative Photography’s Fine Print Collection.

Processing Information

Processed 1985 by Judith Leckrone. Revised May 1986 with suggestions from J. Wolbarst. The finding aid was updated by Paloma Phelps in 2017.

John Wolbarst archive, 1954-1981
Finding aid created by CCP Archives Staff
© 2019
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Finding Aid Based On Dacs (Describing Archives: A Content Standard)
Language of description
Script of description
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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