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NBY logo Helen Morrison Photographs of Kentucky African Americans (Newberry Library)

About this collection

 

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Helen Balfour was born in Evanston, Illinois on August 1, 1900 or 1901 to Fannie Lindley and Alexander Balfour. In her later teenage years, Helen took a job in a photography studio to help support the family after the death of her mother. At this studio she learned to use the portrait camera and helped expand the studio's business with creative ideas of her own. In the 1920s, Helen and her brother Malcolm ("Mac") started their own commercial photography business in Evanston. She married Robert Bruce Morrison (March 5, 1902 - June 19, 1966), a publishing executive, in 1925 or 1926.

Beginning in 1935, Morrison traveled to the Inner Bluegrass region near Lexington, Kentucky, where she photographed the residents of two small African-American communities, Zion Hill and Sugar Hill. Morrison's photographs chart the daily lives of individuals in these communities, picturing their work, domestic rituals, and social life. Featured here is the complete set of digitized images from this series, including the original prints developed by Morrison and additional undeveloped negatives.

In addition to her Kentucky work, Morrison embarked on a larger effort to photograph artists, writers, social activists, and other influential men and women for what she called her "Great Americans" or "Notable Americans" series.

For more information, please contact the Newberry at reference@newberry.org or (312) 255-3506.

 
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