Photographer, writer, and social activist Dorothy Norman (1905-1997) created an invaluable depiction of an era through her sensitive and revealing portraiture of early twentieth century artists. Born in Philadelphia, Norman studied English and Literature at Smith College, and at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. In 1925, Norman married and with her husband, Edward A. Norman, had 2 children. The Norman family settled in New York City; it was here that Norman unearthed her passions for photography and writing. Norman’s involvement with photography was inspired by her intimate relationship with seminal photographic figure Alfred Stieglitz, who taught her the mechanics of the medium and was a frequent subject of her work.
Norman had met Stieglitz in 1927 at The Intimate Gallery in New York City. As their friendship deepened to love, Stieglitz photographed Norman and encouraged her to make her own photographs. Under Stieglitz’ mentorship Norman learned development and printing techniques and began documenting the activities and installations at An American Place, Stieglitz’s next gallery, where she also oversaw the operations. There, Norman made revealing portraits of many artists and writers, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marcel Duchamp, Albert Einstein, Indira Ghandi, Thomas Mann, and Richard Wright, establishing her involvement in the artistic and cultural community. During this period she also photographed extensively in New York City, Cape Cod, and created many portraits of her mentor, Stieglitz.
Not only a talented photographer, Norman was also an accomplished writer. She was the publisher and editor of Twice a Year, an arts journal which appeared from 1938-1948, and included contributors Richard Wright, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Anais Nin, e.e. cummings and Bertolt Brecht. She wrote a column in The New York Post from 1942-1949. Norman also published several books devoted to her lover and mentor — Stieglitz Memorial Portfolio (1947) and Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer (1973).
Stieglitz’ sudden death in 1946 affected Norman tremendously; she devoted herself with renewed commitment to political action and photography. Norman advocated for a variety of liberal causes including Americans for Democratic Action, the New York Urban League, The American Emergency Food Committee for India, the American Citizens’ Committee for Economic Aid Abroad, the Group Theatre, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the early Planned Parenthood Association. Her friendship with Indira Gandhi and several visits to India resulted in a large body of photographs and several books documenting the great social changes in India of the 1950s.
In 1968, Norman donated a large collection of photographs by herself and Stieglitz to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which were exhibited there that year. A larger number of Norman’s photographs were shown at the International Center of Photography in New York City in 1993 accompanied by a book, Intimate Visions: The Photographs of Dorothy Norman. Norman died on April 12, 1997.
The Dorothy Norman Archive contains papers, 1875-1969; extensive research materials and manuscripts related to Norman’s books on Alfred Stieglitz; and photographic materials from the 1930s-1960s including negatives, contact prints, and proof prints from throughout Norman’s career, including her large files of portraits, her early work in New York City and Cape Cod, and her later work in India and Japan. The Center owns about 160 of Norman’s photographic prints.