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William Gedney

Kentucky, 1972

William Gedney (1932-1989) grew-up in upstate New York and then moved to Manhattan at the age of nineteen to attend the Pratt Institute. It was there that he discovered his interest in photography. In 1955 he graduated and worked at Condé Nast for two years before leaving to pursue his own work. Gedney moved to a low rent neighborhood in Brooklyn, working freelance and taking on part time jobs. In 1961, he was hired by Time, Inc., where he focused on layout of photographs for the publication. Over the next three years he saved enough money to travel to eastern Kentucky, finding his way to a coal-mining town. For almost two weeks he lived with and photographed the Cornett family. The head of the household, Willie, had recently lost his job in the mines and was struggling to support his wife and twelve children. Gedney returned in 1972 to photograph the family again and stayed in touch, exchanging letters for twelve years. During the mid-1960s through the 1970s, Gedney was awarded four major art grants including Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships. The first of these made possible a cross-country trip through the Midwest to California. He settled in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, where he photographed the drifters passing through this communal neighborhood. Shortly thereafter, Gedney was offered positions teaching photography at both Pratt and Cooper Union. He remained a member of the faculty at both schools for the rest of his working life. A few months after he began teaching, he received his Fulbright grant and left on his first of several trips to India, which had a lasting effect on him. He asked that after his death his books and cameras be given to one of India's institutions of learning. His brother, Richard Gedney, donated them to the Chitrabani Art College in Calcutta. His photographs and notebooks were given by Lee Friedlander and Richard Gedney to the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University.