This summer, Kevin Bicknell started working in the Marquand Books office to document and organize the archives of photographer Hector Acebes. Bicknell is a second-year graduate student in the University of Washington’s Museology program, studying to work with fine arts collections. We invited Bicknell to write a guest post this week to talk about his work on the archive.
The year is 1953. Accompanied only with a Rolleiflex camera, a man gets behind the wheel of his Jeep and sets out on a journey across northern Africa. Along the way, he photographs the breathtaking landscapes, ancient architecture, and vibrant cultures that first drew him to the continent.
Sounds like a pitch for a movie, right?
This was my initial thought upon being introduced to the work of Hector Acebes. I would soon come to understand that much of the photographer’s life more closely resembles a work of fiction than it does reality. I assure you, however, that this is a true story, and that the twenty-eight editioned photos I have been working with this summer are just as compelling as the man who took them.
Acebes, born in New York City in 1921, was raised in Spain, Colombia, and the United States. In the late 1940s and through the 1950s, he adventured through Africa and South America, taking photographs during his travels. These experiences led to his career as a professional filmmaker. He established Acebes Productions in the late 1950s and focused on creating documentary and industrial films, releasing forty-three titles in all. Though he made his living off his films, photography remained Hector’s passion.
Since I began working with the Hector Acebes Archive in June, I have completed a variety of projects. I took an inventory of all the photos currently in the collection, as well as those that have been sold or donated to museums. I compiled an exhibition history for the collection and updated the Hector Acebes Archive website. I re-wrapped and reorganized framed prints from a prior exhibition of Hector’s work, which the archive will be offering to museums and galleries in the near future. I also explored a number of online venues for showing the work, such as artphotoindex.com, where Hector’s work can now be viewed. This work on the Acebes Archive has been done in order to raise awareness of the artist and introduce his photographs to the public.
Working so closely with this relatively small collection allowed me to gain an appreciation for Acebes’s work that I haven’t found with larger collections. An aspect of these photos that I find most compelling is that they can be approached from so many different angles. Not only are they visually stunning, but they beg the viewer to think about the context in which they were taken. These aren’t just images of people, they’re records of interactions between human beings. Acebes’s charming personality and passion for adventure are embedded in every one of these prints, and his ability to captivate is as apparent in the faces of his subjects as it is in those who experience his work sixty years later.
[Originally posted on September 18, 2013]
Photography by Jeremy Linden