Born January 2, 1914, to Charles and Willie Jones in Shreveport, Louisiana. His father,
of Dutch ancestry, was a cabinetmaker. His mother, a French Huguenot, supported his
interest in the arts. Named for the doctor who delivered him, Dr. Pirkle. His family moved
to Indiana and then to Ohio, where Jones attended Lima High School in Lima and graduated
Developed an interest in art by attending numerous art museums in Dayton, Detroit, and
Toledo, and the Philips Museum in Washington, D.C. In addition to seeing a very influential
van Gogh show in Cleveland, Jones also remembers seeing a number of Alfred Stieglitz photographs paired with one Georgia O’Keeffe painting in Cleveland. He studied drawing
and became interested in photography. In 1931, he bought a Beau Brownie 2A and, in 1936,
a friend offered him a Rolliflex; he taught himself photography.
From 1936 to 1940, actively participated in pictorial photography salons organized by the
Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles; the American Museum of Natural History, New York;
the National Gallery of Canada; the Camera Pictorialists of Bombay; and the Minneapolis
Institute of the Arts and international salons in Australia, Belgium, Canada, England,
France, Greece, Hungary, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, and Wales.
Served the United States Army in the Signal Corps, 37th Infantry Division; stationed in
the South Pacific as a Warrant Officer and worked as a cryptographer. Received a Bronze
Star for his service. Though he had been accepted in the Signal Corps because of his
experience as an amateur photographer, he did no photography while in service.
Returned from the South Pacific through the Port of Los Angeles and was eligible for
continued education because of the G.I. Bill of Rights. After a brief time back in Lima,
Jones applied to and was accepted in the first class that was offered in photography at
the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco (now the San Francisco Art Institute)
in order to study with Ansel Adams, who started the department.
Met the poet and photographer Ruth-Marion Baruch, who was also at the school to study
Photographed the architecture of Bernard Maybeck with Minor White and Al Gay.
The assignment came to them through an acquaintance and was never published.
The three men lived in Ansel Adams’s father’s house while affiliated with the California
School of Fine Arts.
Photographed the sculpture of Annette Rosenshine, a project that continued
Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones married.
Professional assistant to Ansel Adams in San Francisco, from 1949 to 1953.
To support his personal work, began freelance photography work in San Francisco,
including corporate assignments, illustration, and architectural photography.
Taught at the Ansel Adams Workshop in San Francisco.
At the request of Bill Quandt, Jones returned to teach at the California School of Fine
when Minor White left for Rochester; served as Instructor in Photography until 1958.
Adams’s article about Pirkle appears in the U.S. Camera Annual, outlining Jones’s
biography and praising the quality of his photographic work.
Formed the Bay Area Photographers with Ruth Bernhard, Imogen Cunningham,
Paul Hassel, Wayne Miller, and Gini and Jerry Stoll, among others. The organization
formed to offer encouragement and support for the photographers and to exhibit new
work. In the fall, the group put on San Francisco Weekend. This exhibition, shown at the
San Francisco Art Festival, included 107 images of the city taken by twenty-eight
photographers over a single weekend. It was exhibited internationally by the U.S.
Information Agency through 1957.
Felinimus and Twig, written by Baruch and illustrated with photographs by Jones, was
the couple’s first collaborative effort. This children’s book remains unpublished.
Assisted Dorothea Lange with her project, Public Defender.
Joined Dorothea Lange in a Life magazine commission to do a photographic study of
Berryessa Valley in California. The area was chosen by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
as a necessary dam site, and it was flooded to create Lake Berryessa in 1957. Lange
and Jones documented the valley, the town of Monticello, and the people who lived there
in the last year of the valley’s existence. Life never published the story.
Participated in the Symposium on West Coast Photography held at San Francisco State
College with Ira Latour, Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, Ruth-Marion Baruch,
and Wayne Miller.
Left his position as Instructor of Photography at the California School of Fine Arts to
allow him more time to pursue personal work.
Began photographing the construction of the Paul Masson Winery in Saratoga, CA for
the architect John Bolles. In 1959, this project became The Story of a Winery in
collaboration with Ansel Adams.
Aperture published Death of a Valley, twenty-five photographs that Lange and Jones
selected from over three thousand images taken during their 1956 Berryessa Valley project.
Their photographic essay was exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and
The Art institute of Chicago.
Edward Steichen presented Jones with the Photographic Excellence Award, from the
National Urban League, New York.
Collaborated with Ruth-Marion Baruch on the photographic essay Walnut Grove: Portrait
Completed The Story of a Winery with Ansel Adams, which began as an exhibition at
the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and toured the U. S. An accompanying
catalogue was written by Elsa Gidlow, and a related publication, Gift of the Grape, was
published in 1959 with photographs by Adams and Jones.
Moved with Ruth-Marion to Mill Valley in Marin County.
Instructor at the Ansel Adams Workshops in Yosemite National Park, CA, through 1970.
Taught two-week workshop, Images and Words / The Making of a Photographic Book,
with Ansel Adams, Beaumont Newhall, Nancy Newhall, and Adrian Wilson through U.C.
Santa Cruz Extension. The workshop continued annually through 1970.
Published Portfolio Two: Twelve Photographs. Individual exhibition of the same portfolio
at the California Redwood Gallery in San Francisco. The portfolio had an introduction by
Ansel Adams and included images primarily of nature and people in San Francisco, Saratoga, Berryessa Valley, and Arizona.
Collaborated with Ruth-Marion Baruch on A Photographic Essay on the Black Panthers.
Their work culminated in an exhibition of over 120 prints that originated at the de Young
Museum in San Francisco. The exhibit was nearly canceled due to unfavorable press, but
was popular enough to extend two weeks. It traveled to the Studio Museum in Harlem,
New York; Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire; and U.C. Santa Cruz.
Began Gate Five, a study of a large houseboat community on the edge of San Francisco
Bay in Sausalito, CA; continued into 1971.
Began teaching photography workshops with Ruth-Marion Baruch and Al Weber; continued
Returned to teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute, a position he would keep
Taught workshop on the Zone System and darkroom technique, Ansel Adams Studio,
Yosemite National Park, with Richard Garrod.
Began Flea Market series; continued until 1978.
Participated in a nationwide photographic study—financed by The Seagram Company
as a bicentennial project—of approximately one thousand American county courthouses by
twenty-four photographers. Among the other contributors were William Clift, Charles Traub,
Tod Papageorge, Ellen Land-Weber, Frank Gohlke, Lewis Baltz, Nick Nixon, Stephen
Shore, and William Eggleston. The final presentation toured nationally and internationally
under the auspices of the American Federation of Arts through 1981.
Awarded a Fellowship Grant in Photography by The National Endowment for the Arts.
Produced the Rock Series and the Salt Marsh Series, both collections of work from nature.
The salt marsh was at Richardson Bay in Marin County.
Produced The Tanbark Oak Series and The Madrono Series, which subsequently became
Mount Tamalpais Series.
Taught the Friends of Photography Members Workshop in Carmel with Ruth-Marion Baruch.
With his colleague at the San Francisco Art Institute, a collaboration with Grayson Matthews, James Alinder and David Featherstone, of the Friends of Photography, put together the
mail-order catalog Photography for Collectors to bridge the gap between independent
photographs and collectors, as well as those photographs who opposed exclusive gallery representation. The edition included twenty-eight western photographers.
Presented with an Award of Honor at the San Francisco Arts Festival by the San Francisco
Arts Commission and the Citizen of the Day Award from KABL radio in San Francisco.
Taught a Master Class at U.C. Santa Cruz Extension Photography Workshops,
(reprised in 1988).
Established the Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch Endowment in support of their
Photography Archives at Special Collections, University Library, U.C. Santa Cruz.
Ruth-Marion Baruch passed away in October 1997.
Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, San Francisco Art Institute.
The Napa Valley Museum exhibited Berryessa - the Last Year.
The documentary film on Pirkle Jones entitled Pirkle Jones: Seven Decades Photographed was premiered at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in April. The film is directed and produced by Jane Levy Reed.
Pirkle Jones dies on March 15, 2009 at the age of 95.
Compiled by Kate Palmer Albers, 2001