Arnold Eagle photographs
Available digital items: https://digital.archives.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/NA000401.
Arnold Eagle (1909-1992) emigrated to New York from Hungary in 1929. He became a documentary photographer in the 1930s and, in 1945, he was hired by Standard Oil of New Jersey to produce a visual record of the benefits of oil in the lives of everyday Americans, and, in the process, created a broad photographic record of American life during the 1940s. Later, Eagle's work encompassed subjects ranging from modern dance to corporate workplaces.
In 1955, Eagle joined the faculty of the New School for Social Research, where he taught photography and filmmaking until shortly before his death. The collection consists of black and white photographic prints produced by Eagle, primarily from the 1940s and 1950s. The photos predominantly document landscapes, human labor and machinery at industrial and agricultural sites around the United States, Mexico and Cuba. Industries represented include cabinetry, mining, and mattresses; agricultural operations include sugar cane production.
- 1938 - 1962
- Majority of material found within 1940 - 1949
- Eagle, Arnold (Photographer, Person)
0.8 Cubic Feet (2 boxes, 5 folders)
Language of Materials
Scope and Contents
The collection consists of black and white photographic prints produced by Arnold Eagle, primarily in the 1940s and 1950s. The photos predominantly document human labor, machinery and landscapes at industrial and agricultural sites around the United States, Mexico, and Cuba. Industries represented include cabinetry, mining, and mattresses; agricultural operations include sugar cane production.
The collection is divided into three series based upon information (or lack thereof) stamped and written on the back side of the photographs, combined with information gathered about Eagle's career. Many prints bear two or more stamps, sometimes with stamps or other information crossed out. Many also have "no copyright" handwritten on them, most probably written by someone other than Eagle. Some photographs bear both Standard Oil of New Jersey and Photography for Industry (PFI) stamps. It is not known whether Eagle did business as PFI while working for Standard Oil, or, whether photographs produced for Standard Oil were perhaps repurposed for other projects.
The first series includes prints bearing Arnold Eagle's stamp that were probably taken by Eagle for freelance commissions. Only a few of the commissioning agencies in this series have been identified. When possible, a commissioning agency has been identified and the project title and/or job number has been included in the folder title. When no commissioning agent was identified, the archivist created a title based upon the evident or perceived subject matter of the photographs.
Photographs in the second series bear the stamp of Eagle's company, Photography for Industry. Commissioning agents are usually not identified on these prints. The series also includes a folder of correspondence and print orders.
The photographs in the third series were created while Eagle was on assignment for Standard Oil of New Jersey (SONJ) under the direction of Roy Stryker.
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Arnold Eagle was born in Hungary and immigrated to New York with his family in 1929, at the age of 19. In 1932, Eagle joined the Film and Photo League, an organization devoted to documentary photography and newsreels, and two years later undertook a study of Orthodox Jews on the Lower East Side. Photographs from this study were published in the 1992 book At Home Only With God: Believing Jews and Their Children.
In 1935, Eagle joined the Works Progress Administration, established by the federal government to employ workers during the Great Depression, for whom Eagle produced photographic studies of New York City slums and the 2nd Avenue El (elevated railway). During this period Eagle also ran a photography workshop for the National Youth Administration, a federal agency devoted to vocational training; became an early member of the Photo League, a group dedicated to socially conscious photography; and freelanced for Fortune and the Saturday Evening Post , among other magazines.
In 1945, Eagle joined a remarkable roster of photographers on a wide-ranging photo-documentary project for the public relations department of Standard Oil of New Jersey. Led for most of its existence (1943-1956) by Roy Stryker, the company's goal was to produce a visual record of the benefits of oil in the lives of everyday Americans. In the process, the project produced an extensive photographic record of American life during the 1940s, created by some of the country's most accomplished photographers.
Around 1947, Stryker sent Eagle to Louisiana to photograph the filmmaker Robert Flaherty at work on a film produced by Standard Oil, Louisiana Story (1948). Eagle gradually won Flaherty's trust and friendship and developed a passion for filmmaking. He served as cinematographer on a feature-length Surrealist movie by Hans Richter, Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947), and made several documentaries of his own, including The Pirogue Maker (circa 1949), and a nursing recruitment film, The Diary of Connie McGregor (1962).
Sometimes conducting business under the name Photography for Industry, Eagle's freelance work included photographing a wide range of subjects, from the dance companies of Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham to promotional work for corporations such as Allied Chemical Dye Corporation.
In 1955, Eagle joined the faculty of the New School for Social Research, where he taught photography and filmmaking until shortly before his death, in 1992.
Hagen, Charles. "Arnold Eagle, Cinematographer And Photographer, Is Dead at 82." New York Times (October 27, 1992). Accessed March 8, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/27/obituaries/arnold-eagle-cinematographer-and-photographer-is-dead-at-82.html.
Reese, Kay, Mimi Leipzig. "Interviews with ASMP Founders." (Interview and transcript, 1990). American Society of Media Photographers. Accessed February 7, 2016. http://asmp.org/tutorials/arnold-eagle.html#.VrjSN1Ip95g.
The collection is arranged into three series: 1. General; 2. Photography for Industry; 3. Standard Oil of New Jersey
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was donated to the New School Archives in 2009 by the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The photographs had been dropped off at the museum by a neighbor a decade prior to transfer. No additional information about the source or compiler of this collection has been identified.
- Flaherty, Robert Joseph, 1884-1951
- Photographers (Occupation) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Photographs (Type of Material) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Photography (Subject) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (Client)
- Stryker, Roy Emerson, 1893-1975
- Guide to the Arnold Eagle photographs
- New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
- May 13, 2016
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- July 17, 2019: New School Archives staff added Other Finding Aids note.