Max Belcher photographs, 1969-1998

Navigate the Collection

Using These Materials Teaser

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials

Five exhibition-quality prints from the project "American People: Portraits of the Philadelphia Community in the Dominican Republic" are restricted; there are photocopies of these prints available...
More about accessing and using these materials...


Belcher, Max
Max Belcher (1944- ) is an American-born photographer with interests in portraiture, vernacular architecture, and racial and immigrant identity. This collection of his work comprises black-and-white and color contact sheets, study prints, and fine prints of Belcher's projects based in Canada, Liberia, the Dominican Republic, Israel, Vietnam, and the United States, in particular New York City, Massachusetts, and the Southern States. Three projects are well-represented in this collection: (1) American People: Portraits from the Philadelphia Community in the Dominican Republic, (2) Claiming Place: Biracial American Portraits, and (3) A Land and Life Remembered: Americo-Liberian Folk Architecture. Published catalogs of Belcher's work are also held in this repository and cataloged separately. Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
10 Linear Feet (48 boxes)
Materials in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The photographs and printed materials in this collection date from 1969 to 1998, and document the work and career of photographer Max Belcher.

The core of the collection is the Photographs series, comprising 1,027 contact sheets (860 black-and-white, 167 color), 381 photographs (239 black-and-white, 142 color), and five color exhibit-quality fine prints, all spanning nearly three decades of Belcher's professional work as a photographer. The series is divided into 11 project-based subseries, which have been arranged in chronological order by the start date of each project. Within each subseries, contact sheets precede photographs, and black-and-white work precedes color. Individual items in the photography series bear specific technical and identifying information, usually marked by Belcher on the backs of contact sheets and photographs.

Topics include vernacular architecture, particularly in Liberia and the Southern U.S.; race identity in the U.S. and abroad; issues around immigrant identity, particularly in the Dominican Republic, Liberia, and the U.S.; and social conditions for African Americans and racially mixed people in the United States.

The smaller Printed Materials series consists of publicity, exhibit literature, and other materials related to Belcher's work as a photographer.

Biographical / historical:

Max Belcher was born in Philadelphia in 1944 to an African American father from North Carolina and a Jewish American mother of Polish/Lithuanian descent, born in rural Pennsylvania. In 1952 his father went to the Gold Coast at the invitation of the couple's wartime friend, Kwame Nkrumah, for what was meant to be an eight-week business trip. His father was to remain in Africa for the next four decades. By 1954, Belcher, Sr. had established himself in neighboring Liberia and had become a naturalized Liberian citizen; Max and his mother and sister then joined him.

At sixteen, Max Belcher began working in broadcasting as a staff announcer for the Liberian Broadcasting Corporation. By the time he left to go to school in the U.S. in 1964, his lived experience in Liberia, French Guinea and Sierra Leone, combined with his growing appreciation of the capacity of radio, television and film to inform and influence, made him aware of the need for the material and techniques required to disseminate practical information in a developing country, particularly on matters of public health, agricultural practice, child rearing, and road safety.

Belcher's plans were quickly thwarted by the escalation of the Vietnam War. Feeling that the draft was inevitable, Belcher enlisted in the U.S. Marines, serving as a radio and television broadcaster in the U.S. and at Armed Forces Radio and Television Service on Okinawa; and as a Marine Corps Combat Correspondent in Vietnam. After his tour of duty he settled in New York City, where he took a full-time job as a production assistant at NBC News and enrolled in college. He began his studies at Columbia University in 1968 but quickly transferred to the New School for Social Research, where a filmmaking instructor encouraged him to grow accustomed to seeing the world through the lens of a still camera. That training, initially intended to develop his skills as a filmmaker, introduced Belcher to the expressive potential of photography.

Continuing his liberal arts studies at the New School, he also enrolled in a photography class at the School of Visual Arts. At the same time he began shooting experimental photographs in and around New York City, often choosing friends, landscapes and local architecture as his subjects. Finishing his studies in 1970, he returned to Liberia in 1971, embarking on what would become his first major project as a professional photographer.

Since that time, Belcher's photographic interests in portraiture and vernacular architecture have developed in conjunction with the thematic exploration of racial identity, emigration and history that run through his work in Africa, Asia, North America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. He has had numerous one-man shows in the eastern United States and has contributed to group exhibits group exhibits across the U.S. and in Canada, Italy, Chile, Vietnam, and Soviet Armenia. Belcher's photography is held both by private collectors and in the permanent collections of galleries and museums in the United States, Canada, and Vietnam. He has received major support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright Scholars Program, the LEF Foundation, Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Kenan Charitable Trust, and programs of the National Endowment for the Arts. His publications include House and Home: Spirits of the South (1994), and A Land and Life Remembered: Americo-Liberian Folk Architecture (1988), both held by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. He has also taught black-and-white photography to beginning, intermediate and advanced students in Massachusetts, and has lectured on his work. He currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife.

Acquisition information:
The Max Belcher photographs were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a purchase from Max Belcher in 1995, 1997, and 2008.
Processing information:

Processed and described by Lisa Gayle Hazirjian with Alexander X. Byrd, Don Sechler, Karen Jefferson, and Diane Sutton, 1998.

Updated by Meghan Lyon, January 2009.

Updated by Paula Jeannet, 2014 and 2022.


The collection is organized into two series: Photographs and Printed Materials. Project subseries in the Photography series are arranged by the start date of each project.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


Five exhibition-quality prints from the project "American People: Portraits of the Philadelphia Community in the Dominican Republic" are restricted; there are photocopies of these prints available in box 41 for viewing purposes.

Exhibition and reproduction restrictions for all photographic components are outlined in the Conditions Governing Use section, as requested by the photographer.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Publishing requests should be directed to Mr. Belcher, who retains the copyright on all materials in this collection. Stipulations regarding the exhibition and reproduction of materials in the photography series vary according to the type of image in question, and are summarized below. The designation of specific images as professional, exhibition, study, reading-room-only or undesignated images may be determined by consulting Mr. Belcher's notes on individual photographs and contact sheets.

Professional and Exhibition Images

Exhibition: Request permission from Mr. Belcher.

Reproduction: The Library may make viewing copies, photocopies or slides for the purposes of research, teaching, private study or scholarly illustration.

Study Images

Exhibition: May be used in exhibitions only within the Library itself, and only when appropriate language is used to describe the place of these study images within Mr. Belcher'soeuvre.

Reproduction: The Library may make viewing copies, photocopies or slides for the purposes of research, teaching, private study or scholarly illustration.

Reading-Room-Only and Undesignated Images

Exhibition: These images may not be exhibited within or beyond the Library at any time whatsoever.

Reproduction: Pen and ink renditions of images so marked are the only allowable form of reproduction. Reading-room-only and undesignated images may not be reproduced in any photographic, electronic or digital form, or by other means for any purpose whatsoever.

Contact Sheets

Specific images on contact sheets have been identified as professional, study, or reading-room-only images, or remain undesignated. Stipulations on exhibition and reproduction of individual contact sheet images are dependent on the specific designation of the images in question.

Exhibition-Quality, Fine Prints

Exhibition: These prints may be displayed within or beyond the Library, at the Library's discretion.

Reproduction: Selected fine prints in this collection are restricted from general research use and thus are not to be reproduced. However, these images are duplicated in the collection as exhibition images, which may be reproduced according to the stipulations above. Requests for fine prints not in the Library's possession for use in exhibition, as well as requests for reproductions of fine prints for publication, should be directed to Mr. Belcher.

Before you visit:
Please consult our up-to-date information for visitors page, as our services and guidelines periodically change.
Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Max Belcher photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.