The Harrison Forman Photo Collection

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By Susan Dykes

I was recently asked what my favorite image is in the Harrison Forman Collection.  Having become intimately familiar with tens of thousands of images Harrison Forman took, it was an overwhelming and almost impossible request to say the least.  There are so many!  Harrison Forman, photojournalist and adventurer, travelled the world from the 1930s through the 1970s.  He was prolific, wielding his camera to capture major historical events, and the economies, infrastructures, politics, societies, educational systems, and cultures of the places he visited.

By far my favorite kinds of images Forman took are of the people living in many of these places, asking them to take a moment from their daily lives practicing their trades, spending time with their families, and simply enjoying life, to pose for a photo.  Of the thousands of portraits and group photos he took, I found those of the Berber people living in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco among the most striking and beautiful in the collection.

My favorite image, taken in the 1960s, shows a Berber woman in the foreground, eyes closed, wearing a delicate lace veil and coin jewelry, two Berber men behind her in traditional clothing wearing turbans, and another man in the background, photo bombing the shot.

Morocco, Berber people from Atlas Mountains

There’s something very serene about the woman.  Perhaps she just blinked, but I choose to think she was soaking up the sun on her face and possibly the moment.  The two men, eager to be a part of the photograph, looking directly at the camera and the man in the back with a look of wonder, curious about the activity.

Forman’s enthusiasm about documenting people and cultures outside of the Western world is evident in this photograph.  He wanted to share the beauty of people in places unfamiliar to us at the time of his work, which in an historical context, makes a much richer scholarly endeavor today.

While this image is in black and white, as well as the other images of the Berbers in the UWM Libraries Digital Collections online, the Harrison Forman Collection includes over 50,000 color slides that have yet to be digitized, some of which Forman took of the Berber people.  It is our hope that we will be able to obtain the funding to digitize the slides in the near future and make them accessible online, in all their full color glory!

In the meantime, check out the rest of Forman’s images of the Berber people in Morocco:

And, explore images of the other people around the world Forman photographed:

If you have questions about the Harrison Forman Collection, or would like to know more about the color slides, please contact Susan Peschel at the American Geographical Society Library.