Jasper Wood (photographer)

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Jasper Wood (January 2, 1921 – June 7, 2002) was an American self-taught writer, photographer active 1945–1960, and free-speech activist.


Jasper Wood was born in Wilmington, North Carolina,[1] son of Attorney Lehman Wood.[2] In 1936 his family moved to Cleveland. He attended Cleveland Heights High School and in 1938, as a 17-year-old senior he acquired rights to publish Ernest Hemingway’s film script[3] for his narration of The Spanish Earth on the Spanish Civil War,[4] which Wood promoted in his introduction as Hemingway’s greatest contribution,[5] though they had a disagreement[2] when the author insisted on a disclaimer on the title page of the book.[6] Film critic W. Ward Marsh wrote a vehement defence of Wood in Cleveland's The Plain Dealer.[2]

Wood enrolled at Cleveland College in 1939, where he continued his interest in writing as assistant editor of Sky Line, the school's literary magazine. He wrote poetry and a play, and was the local jazz critic for DownBeat magazine in the 1940s.[7] He survived by taking short-term jobs and in 1943 was employed in the advertising department of The Plain Dealer.


Through a colleague, in 1944 Jasper met Nancy Manning, daughter of artist Wray Manning and co-director of the 1030 Gallery. They had their first child, Denis, in 1945 and the family traveled to Mexico while Wood worked on his first novel, and entranced by the indigenous tribes in the small villages surrounding Acapulco, Cuernavaca and San Cristóbal de las Casas, he took his first photos.[8] The next year Wood purchased a 35 mm Contax II rangefinder camera and started taking pictures in Cleveland and in Ohio's Amish country.[9]

“It is only of the poor of the slums or of the far away primitive that I can get the photographs I want. These people have a rhythmic quality which the rest of us have lost.”[10]


He first exhibited his work in 1947[11] at the Cleveland Museum of Art's annual May Show, the first of subsequent May show awards;  in 1949, 1951, 1953 and two honourable mentions in 1947, 1952.[12]  In the meantime Wood began writing reviews of local jazz musicians for the Cleveland Press and Downbeat Magazine, and made a regular income as an advertising agent.

Curator Edward Steichen chose Wood’s photograph of a pensive barefoot Mexican girl hurrying with her empty basket past a wooden door for the 1955 world-touring the Museum of Modern Art exhibit The Family of Man, seen by 9 million visitors.[13] Woods had been included in a previous MoMA show Photographs by 51 Photographers August 1 to September 17, 1950.

The Scovill photographs[edit]

Around 1949 Wood and his young family moved to 1294 Spruce Court in the Lakeview Terrace, one of the nation’s first federally funded housing projects, and in the 1950s Wood had several one-man and two-man shows of imagery made in the neighbourhood. His principal subjects were inhabitants of the Scovill Avenue area of Cleveland, familiar to him from his visits to jazz clubs in the neighbourhood in the late 1930s and early 1940s.[14] Exhibition venues included Image Gallery (New York City), the San Francisco Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum and an exhibition of Scovill photographs at the 1030 Gallery in Cleveland from February 19-March 11, 1950.[15] His Girl with Doll, part of the Scovill series, won first place in the 1951 American Photography magazine annual contest. Also that year, the Akron Art Museum held a joint show by Jasper Wood and friend Harry Schulke who were each asked to invite 13 photographers to exhibit work alongside theirs.  Wood invited Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, Ansel Adams, Edward Steichen, and Bernice Abbott.[16]

In 1953, Wood also ventured into film with a 15-minute short Streetcar,[17] which provides a cross-section of life in Cleveland by depicting passengers traveling the tramway in the early 1950s, just before it stopped running in Cleveland in 1954.[18]

Wood’s motivation in making photographs and film was existential and humanist, and he was not interested in deriving profit from or making a career of a creative medium which he regarded as a means to connect with his subject and to capture what he called the ‘felt moment seen’,[19] in his paraphrase of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’. For a living, he and partner Carl Malmquist established Malmquist and Wood advertising art studio in 1955, a concern profitable enough that the family no longer qualified to live in the housing project where they had built a modest life and they relocated to a three-bedroom apartment in Cleveland Heights where they lived a more privileged existence.[19]

Later career[edit]

Wood’s interest in photography wavered but his love of art continued, bringing him success as an art dealer. A film society he’d founded screened others' works at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Masonic Temple.

When his friend Nico Jacobellis was arrested on obscenity charges in 1959 for showing Louis Malle’s The Lovers at the Heights Art Theater, Wood founded 'Citizens for Freedom of the Mind'. Through it he raised funds for the defence of bookseller James Lowell and counterculture poet D. A. Levy against charges of obscenity corrupting a minor during their poetry reading on November 15, 1966.[1]

Wood had stopped taking photographs altogether by 1960 and his last show was in Image Gallery (New York City) that year.[20] By 1970 he had closed Malmquist and Wood for an early retirement[21] and he and Manning married and purchased a house in San Cristobal, living in Mexico until 1973 when Wood returned to work as an advertising agent, relocating to Raleigh, North Carolina, to be near his eldest son.

Wood died in 2002, survived by his sons Denis and Chris and his wife, who died in 2008.

The Jasper Wood Collection, consisting of all extant photographic negatives by Jasper Wood, a collection of photographic prints by Wood, an original 16mm copy of Wood's short film Streetcar, and biographical information is held in the Cleveland Public Library.


  • Annual May Show, Cleveland Museum of Art, 1947,[11] 1949, 1951,[15] 1952,[12] 1953.
  • 1030 Gallery, Cleveland, February 19–March 11, 1950[1]
  • Photographs by 51 Photographers, Museum of Modern Art, 1 August–17 September 1950[22]
  • Photographs by Jasper Wood, San Francisco Museum April 2, 1952 – May 11, 1952[23]
  • Los Angeles County Museum[1]
  • The Family of Man, Museum of Modern Art, 24 January–8 May 1955 with world tour until 1960.
  • Image Gallery (New York City) 1960[20]

Posthumous exhibitions[edit]

  • The Image Gallery: Redux 1959-1962, Howard Greenberg Gallery, February 15–22, 2014[24]
  • Jasper Wood’s Cleveland, Cleveland Public Library, October 28–November 14, 2016[25]


  • Gray, Arthur, 1884-1976; Barnhill, Wm. A; Wood, Jasper; Borowiec, Andrew, 1956-; Dean, Sharon E., 1959-; Busta, William; Cleveland Artists Foundation; Cleveland Public Library (2007), Visions of a city with a soul : four photographers in Cleveland, 1925-2005, [Cleveland, OH] Cleveland Artsist Foundation and Cleveland Public Library, ISBN 978-0-9716009-9-7CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)


  1. ^ a b c d Biography in The Jasper Wood Collection OhioLINK Finding Aid Repository
  2. ^ a b c W. Ward Marsh "Clevelander publishes Hemingway volume. Jasper Wood gets 'Spanish Earth' rights. Hemingway complains; Volume is praised." in "One Moment, Please!" column, The Plain Dealer, Sunday July 24, 1938 Plain Dealer, page 9-B
  3. ^ Hemingway, Ernest; Wood, Jasper; Russell, Frederick K, (illus.); Herman Finkelstein Collection (Library of Congress) (1938), The Spanish earth, The J.B. Savage companyCS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Guill, Stacey (2011-09-22), "Hemingway's Second War: Bearing Witness to the Spanish Civil War.(Book review)", The Hemingway Review, Ernest Hemingway Foundation, 31 (1): 128(3), ISSN 0276-3362
  5. ^ Valis, N. (2017). ‘From the Face of My Memory’: How American Women Journalists Covered the Spanish Civil War. Society, 54(6), 549-559.
  6. ^ Davison, R. (1988). "The Publication of Hemingway's "The Spanish Earth": An Untold Story". Hemingway Review, 7(2), 122.
  7. ^ Hodes, Art, 1904-1993; Hansen, Chadwick, 1926- (1977), Selections from the gutter : jazz portraits from "The Jazz record", University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-02999-6CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Hopkinson, A. (2001). ‘Mediated Worlds’: Latin American Photography. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 20(4), 520-527.
  9. ^ In a June 24, 1951 letter to the American writer and editor for Carrefour Press, Michael Fraenkel (1896-1957) he writes: "I have been doing a great deal of photography. Enclosed is the announcement for a show I had in the winter [...] Won first award at Cleveland Museum of Art for group of three negro photographs. Have also been photographing an ana-baptist sect [...] the amish [...] They are shrewd, hard, tight, hypocritical as any people ever were [...] yet with a strange beauty in their children, and a clean hardness about their lives which is most attractive [...] But when a people use their religious people use their orthodox beliefs as a shield against the encroachment of the material world, they are already in defeat"
  10. ^ Interview of Wood in The Plain Dealer newspaper, 1949
  11. ^ a b Francis, H. S., & Milliken, W. M. (1947). Review of the Exhibition. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 34(5), 80-107.
  12. ^ a b Francis, H. S., & Milliken, W. M. (1952). Review of the Exhibition. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 39(5), 80-115.
  13. ^ Steichen, Edward; Steichen, Edward, 1879-1973, (organizer.); Sandburg, Carl, 1878-1967, (writer of foreword.); Norman, Dorothy, 1905-1997, (writer of added text.); Lionni, Leo, 1910-1999, (book designer.); Mason, Jerry, (editor.); Stoller, Ezra, (photographer.); Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) (1955). The family of man : the photographic exhibition. Published for the Museum of Modern Art by Simon and Schuster in collaboration with the Maco Magazine Corporation.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Counterpoint, Volume 17, Issue 5, 1952 Stanley Associates, p.25
  15. ^ a b Milliken, W. M. (1951). Review of the Exhibition. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 38(5), 84-123.
  16. ^ American Photography July 1951: pages 420-423
  17. ^ Belton, J. (Ed.). (1996). Movies and mass culture. Rutgers University Press.
  18. ^ Erick Trickey '"Streetcar" by Jasper Wood', Cleveland Magazine blog Sunday, September 7, 2008
  19. ^ a b James Bigley II (2016) The Lost Art of Jasper Wood, Cleveland Magazine, Saturday, October 01, 2016
  20. ^ a b Jacob Deschin (1960) 'Wide Range Shown By Seven Exhibits'. In The New York Times, March 13, 1960
  21. ^ Interview in The Plain Dealer, Aug. 2, 1970
  22. ^ Museum of Modern Art Calendar of Exhibitions online
  23. ^ SFMOMA Exhibition Inventory 1935–1991
  24. ^ Information on and images from The Image Gallery: Redux 1959-1962 at Howard Greenberg Gallery exhibition archive on their website
  25. ^ Cleveland Public Library Press Release