Ann Arbor, Michigan, photography firm. Photonegatives, and some photoprints, of images largely relating to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, but including Ypsilanti and other Michigan cities: buildings, businesses, houses, street scenes, community activities, and organizations; also photos of automobiles, storm damage, etc. taken to support insurance claims.
The Ivory Photo collection consists of an impressive array of negatives and prints taken by Ann Arbor photographer Mel Ivory from the 1920s to the early 1970s. Most of the photographs were taken by Ivory for customers, whether the University of Michigan, local businesses, or private citizens. The collection is probably most valuable for its extensive documentation of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, the two areas in which it bulks largest. However, because it spans a relatively long time period, the collection is also useful for illustrating changes in photography as an art and as a business, and for documenting social trends in twentieth-century America. Finally, the collection documents the career of a commercial photographer.
As a photographer for the University of Michigan in the 1920s and 1930s, Ivory took the standard pictures of campus events, buildings, and people, but the value of many photographs from this period is as much aesthetic as informational. Producing cover art for the Michigan Alumnus allowed him to experiment with unusual angles, lighting, and subject matter. (See, for example, photographs of the Clements Library and of students strolling through the Diag in the 1930s.) In stark contrast to these images is a large group of photographs of car wrecks that Ivory took for insurance companies between 1937 and 1969.
Besides providing thorough documentation of the physical plant of the University of Michigan, the Ivory collection evokes the flavor of life on campus in the 1930s and 1940s through photographs of football games and crowds, dance bands, social events, professors at work in laboratories, the Michigan Daily staff at work, and students in classrooms, libraries, and dormitories.
The Ann Arbor subseries includes numerous photographs of houses and businesses, filed by address to facilitate research into a particular building or site, as well as a rich assortment of photographs depicting life in Ann Arbor through more than four decades. There are numerous photographs of men and women at work in factories, stores, and other settings. Some show women at work in unusual settings (as cab drivers for Ace Cab Company, for example) while others depict women in stereotypically female occupations (as secretaries, store clerks, and ditto machine operators). Photographs of drug and department store display windows and of products in grocery stores illustrate trends in merchandising.
The Ivory collection is also remarkable for its documentation of social mores. Wedding photographs taken from the 1930s to the 1960s depict a variety of settings, fashions, wedding rituals, and even fads, such as a 1940 wedding at a roller rink. There is also a small group of photographs of funerals and an extensive series of portraits of children, families, and individuals.
Photographs of a depression-era hobo cooking near a railroad car, of lawn parties and country clubs, of the soap box derby and sports teams reflect diverse aspects of life in Ann Arbor. The home front during World War II is documented in views of an aluminum drive, a blitzkrieg game in a local tavern, a commuter bus with a female conductor, and the Judge Advocate General's school exercises in the Law Quad.
Although the Ypsilanti subseries is considerably smaller than the Ann Arbor and University of Michigan subseries, it contains a number of valuable photographs, such as the Cleary College photographs showing rows of students at typewriters, students relaxing on boarding house steps and in Cleary lounges and recreation rooms, and annual graduation processions. The Washtenaw County subseries contains rural scenes such as farms, country roads, and a county fair. The remaining subseries consist of businesses, street scenes, railroad stations, and a variety of other photographs representing Michigan towns and counties.
A few copy negatives made by Ivory from existing photographs are scattered throughout the collection. A late nineteenth or early twentieth-century anatomy lesson in the Medical School, for example, is filed in the "Colleges, Schools, and other Divisions" section of University of Michigan 5"x7" negatives.
The contents of the various subseries and sub-subseries are for the most part self-evident, but a few words of explanation about the Ann Arbor subseries are in order. "Buildings and Views" consists largely of exterior views of buildings. However, there are many interior scenes of people and activities in the "Churches," "Hospitals," and "Schools" sections. For example, photographs of Ann Arbor churches include views of the pastor and congregation, choirs, recreation rooms, meetings, and athletic teams in addition to interior and exterior views of the buildings. "Schools" contains photographs of sports teams, classroom scenes, social events, and buildings representing Ann Arbor public and parochial schools, but also Ann Arbor Secretarial School and Concordia College.
Researchers seeking images of commercial enterprises will find material in the "Buildings and Views" sub-subseries (listed under the street address in the "Houses and Businesses" section) and in the "Businesses" sub-subseries (under the name of the enterprise).
The "Houses and Businesses" negatives within the "Buildings and Views" sub-subseries are arranged alphabetically by street name and then numerically by address. Most of these photographs are exterior views, but interior scenes of businesses have been filed here in order to keep exterior and interior views of a particular business together. Photographs of products, equipment, people at work, and special events are filed in the "Businesses" sub-subseries when no building exteriors exist or when the address of the business was unknown. Researchers should look both places for photographs of businesses. Although some "see also" references have been added, they are by no means exhaustive. Researchers may also wish to examine the "Motor Vehicles" sub-subseries, which contains photographs of trucks owned by Ann Arbor businesses.
In the University of Michigan subseries, "Buildings and Views" consists of exterior and interior views of buildings, whereas "Colleges, Schools, and Other Divisions" contains photographs of professors and students in laboratories and classrooms as well as group photographs of staff and students.