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John Gutmann archive

Identifier: AG 173

Scope and Contents

Series 1, Correspondence, contains letters, telegrams, postcards, and greeting cards written to and from John Gutmann. Personal correspondence is correspondence is arranged alphabetically under the series “Selected Correspondence”. Correspondence relating to business matters is filed separately under the series “Business Correspondence.” For a comprehensive index to all correspondence, see “Index to Correspondence.” A sub-series consisting of greeting cards is grouped separately under “Chronological Correspondence.” Note: Additional correspondence with John Gutmann may be found in Biographical Materials, Activity Files, Legal Files, Exhibition Files, and Teaching and Education Files. The correspondence series has been divided into the following subseries: Selected Correspondence, Business Correspondence, and Chronological Correspondence. There is also an extensive index to the correspondence in Appendix A.

Series 2, Biographical Materials, includes correspondence, biographies, notebooks, awards, legal documents, and other materials pertaining to Gutmann’s life and career.

Series 3, Activity Files, includes nine subseries: Includes interviews, notes and preparation materials for lectures and workshops, published and unpublished writings by Gutmann and others, video and film scripts, material related to the Restless Decade book project, exhibition brochures, and files pertaining to Gutmann’s art and book collection.

Series 4, Exhibitions, includes correspondence, gallery notes, brochures, insurance and loan forms, press releases, installation views, and clippings documenting Gutmann’s exhibitions. Arranged chronologically by location of exhibit.

Series 5, Teaching and Education Files, includes correspondence, lecture and research notes, bibliographies, equipment lists, and other materials relating to art and photography courses taught by Gutmann at San Francisco State University, as well as documents pertaining to Gutmann’s work as the founder of the “Art Movies” event at SFSU. Also included is material relating to Gutmann’s continuing education. Materials are divided into seven subseries.

Series 6, Publications and Clippings, contains monographs, periodicals, auction/exhibition catalogs, tearsheets, and miscellaneous items written by Gutmann or about his activities. Clippings document Gutmann interests but not his activities. Materials are divided into four subseries and are arranged alphabetically.

Series 7, Scrapbooks, includes four scrapbooks of tear sheets and clippings related to Gutmann’s exhibitions and career.

Series 8, Audiovisual Materials, Contains lectures and interviews by or with Gutmann recorded on reel-to-reel audiotapes, cassette audiotapes, and on videotapes; and documentary footage made for the Office of War Information by Gutmann during World War II on 16mm films. Arranged by media then chronologically. Note: Descriptions of all audiovisual materials are recorded verbatim from the storage box.

Series 9, Business Records, include lists of photographs and prints, technical manuals, materials related to darkroom construction, lists of prints on loan for exhibitions and reproductions, printing records, and invoices for private sales.

Series 10, Financial Records, contains invoices and receipts for photographic equipment and supplies, receipts for expenses accrued on Sabbatical leave, invoices for film mastering and printing, SFSU documents relating to Gutmann’s medical leave of absence, correspondence with the Veterans Administration concerning disability compensation and insurance, receipts for expenses accrued during Guggenheim Fellowship, and correspondence concerning a disputed credit card charge for a car rental in Spain.

Series 11, Legal and Medical Files, contains correspondence and documents relating to an indemnification case against the German government and complications surrounding publication of a book and an article, as well as medical X-Rays.

Series 12, Artifacts, includes original negative sleeves and boxes; cargo trunks and suitcases; cropping, burning, and dodging tools; cameras and photographic equipment; Army uniform; typewriter; and other objects from Gutmann’s life.

Series 13, Artwork, features 30 drawings, 26 etchings, and 14 lithographs.

Series 14, Photographic Materials, is divided into negatives, contact sheets, and proof prints. Materials include black-and-white and color negatives of various sizes; color transparencies; contact sheets; and prints.


  • 1930 - 1990


Conditions Governing Access

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Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is held by the Center for Creative Photography. 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 / Historical

John Gutmann (1905–1998) was one of America’s most distinctive photographers. Born in Germany where he trained as an artist and art teacher, he fled the Nazis in 1933 and settled in San Francisco, reinventing himself as a photo-journalist. Gutmann captured images of American culture, celebrating signs of a vibrant democracy, however imperfect. His own status as an outsider—a Jew in Germany, a naturalized citizen in the United States—informed his focus on individuals from the Asian-American, African-American, and gay communities, as well as his photography in India, Burma, and China during World War II. Gutmann’s interests in painting and filmmaking, his collections of non-Western art and artifacts, and his pedagogy, all figure in a body of work at once celebratory and mysterious.

Gutmann was born to prosperous German-Jewish parents, in Breslau, Germany (since 1945, Wrocław, Poland). At age twenty-two, he graduated from the regional Academy of Arts and Crafts, where he studied with leading Expressionist painter Otto Müller. In 1927 Gutmann moved to Berlin, where he taught art to schoolchildren, participated in group exhibitions, and in 1931 had a solo show at the prestigious Gurlitt Gallery. However, his career was interrupted by the rise to power of the National Socialists in early 1933. While his family made plans to immigrate to New York, Gutmann set out on his own with San Francisco as his destination, and photography as his new profession. Before departing Germany, he acquired a Rolleiflex camera, hastily shot three rolls of film, and managed to secure a contract from the Berlin office of Presse-Photo. Making the most of a bad situation, he explored a new life as a foreign correspondent who would supply the very modern European illustrated press with views and reports from the American West.

By 1936, he had broken his contract with the Berlin press agency and made a new one with Pix in New York. By 1937, he had begun to teach art regularly at San Francisco College (later San Francisco State University), and this became his primary profession after a World War II era stint in the U.S. army. Gutmann retired his professorship in 1973 and began to reassess his body of work, sorting through boxes of negatives and making new prints of selected examples from the 1930s. It was a well-timed exercise: not only did Gutmann’s images satisfy a growing historical appetite for Depression-era photography, they also seemed compatible with certain kinds of experimental photography then emerging in the contemporary art scene. Before his death in 1998, Gutmann had seen his work featured in gallery and museum exhibitions, catalogues, and monographs.

By bequeathing his rich archive of nearly 5000 modern photographic prints, negatives, tearsheets, letters, and some drawings and early art prints to the CCP, John Gutmann has left us with the task of pursuing the rich knots, braids, tangles and threads in his complex life and work that unfolded over a most tumultuous and provocative century of modernity.

John Gutmann born 28 May, Breslau, Germany.
Receives B.A., Staatliche Academie fur Kunst und Kunstgerwebe zu Breslau; studies as a Masters student under Otto Mueller; also studies art history and philosophy at the University of Berlin.
Paints, exhibits, and teaches art in Berlin; does post-graduate work at Humboldt Universitat zu Berlin and Berliner Akademie der Bildenden Kunste
Receives M.A., Preussisches Schulkollegin fur Hohere Erziehung, Berlin.
Purchases Rolleiflex camera and signs contract with Presse-foto, Berlin, before leaving Germany; arrives in San Francisco 31 December.
Takes extended trip by bus from San Francisco to Vancouver, British Columbia, stopping in many places there and back.
Begins teaching art, San Francisco State College. Terminates association with Presse-Foto and begins working for Pix, Inc. Publishes photographs in numerous national and international magazines including Saturday Evening Post, Time, Look, Life, National Geographic, U.S. Camera, Coronet, Asia Pictorial Press, and others.
Teaches course on advertising art at the Jewish Community Center, San Francisco.
Appointed Assistant Professor of Art, San Francisco State College; introduces courses on art history and studio photography.
László Moholy-Nagy visits San Francisco and Gutmann serves as guide.
Serves as cameraman with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, later attached to the Office of War Information (OWI) as a member of psychological warfare unit in the China, Burma, and India Theatre. Produces a body of official work for the U.S. Army, while also photographing and filming the culture and society of the region.
Returns to teaching at San Francisco State College and establishes the creative photography program.
Appointed Associate Professor of Art, San Francisco State College; produces two documentary films, The Chinese Peasant Goes to Market and Journey to Kunming, using footage shot while serving with the U.S. Army in China; marries artist, Gerrie von Pribosic in December.
Establishes and directs international film program, “Art Movies,” at San Francisco State College.
Travels to Mexico during the summer for post-graduate study in art history at the University of Mexico.
Serves on jury for the Portland Art Museum’s exhibition Oregon Photography 1953.
Appointed full Professor of Art, San Francisco State College.
Meets Wynn Bullock.
Travels on sabbatical in Portugal, Spain, Morocco, France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and England; photographs and films modern European architecture for a prospective movie.
Continues teaching at San Francisco State College, but due to protracted illness produces little photographic work.
Lectures at Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, “The Newest in Avant Garde and Experimental Films” (15 March).
ca. 1964
John and Gerrie Gutmann divorce.
Receives Distinguished Teaching Award from California State Colleges.
Travels to Germany; visits Berlin for the first time since immigrating to the United States.
Retires from full-time teaching; Professor Emeritus, San Francisco State University [formerly San Francisco State College]; begins to review and print images from his collection of negatives.
Teaches part-time at San Francisco State University.
Numerous solo and group exhibitions. See appendix A for list.
Receives the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship with his proposal to review his earlier photographic work for the “visual use of language and popular emblems in American life during the 1930s and 1940s”; teaches seminar/workshop, “Visual Communication in the Arts, Anthropology, and Education,” University Extension, University of California Berkeley, La Mamelle Art Center (26-27 February).
Produces the documentary film, Le Palais Ideal.
Publishes monograph, The Restless Decade: John Gutmann’s Photographs of the Thirties, edited by Lew Thomas; lectures at Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego (November 29).
Keynote speaker, Western Regional Conference of the Society for Photographic Education, Los Angeles.
John Gutmann dies 12 June in San Francisco.
The Photography of John Gutmann: Culture Shock published.


96 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

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


Papers, audiovisual materials, memorabilia, artifacts, and photographic materials, 1930s-1990s, of the photographer, teacher, and artist, John Gutmann, (1905-1998). Includes correspondence, lecture notes, biographical information, clippings, publications, photographs, films, videos, proof prints, negatives, transparencies, painting materials, and camera and movie equipment.


Series 1: Correspondence, n.d., 1926-1998 Series 2: Biographical Materials, 1934-1999 Series 3: Activity Files, 1957-1991 Series 4: Exhibitions, n.d., 1934-1999 Series 5: Teaching and Education Files, 1938-1991 Series 6: Publications and Clippings, 1946-2000 Series 7: Scrapbooks, 1934-1987 Series 8: Audiovisual Materials, 1943-1993 Series 9: Business Records, n.d., 1954-1998 Series 10: Financial Records, 1956-1990 Series 11: Legal and Medical Files, 1934, 1956-1962, 1976-1979 Series 12: Artifacts Series 13: Artwork Series 14: Photographic Materials, circa 1930s – 1990s

Appendix A: Index to Correspondence Appendix B: Exhibitions List Appendix C: Index to Negatives Combined into Sheets of Negatives


Gift through dispensation in artist’s will. Collection arrived in 2000.

Finding aid for the John Gutmann collection
Under Revision
Finding aid created by Alexis Peregoy. Finding aid updated by Elias Larralde in 2022 [added box records for 68-110]
Description rules
Finding Aid Based On Dacs (Describing Archives: A Content Standard)
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Center for Creative Photography Archives Repository

1030 N. Olive RD
Tucson Arizona 85721 United States