When Ray McSavaney passed away in July 2014, he left a considerable photographic legacy. He had been one of the founders of the Owens Valley Photographic Workshops and was a highly respected teacher. He had self published “Explorations”, which represents a fine selection of his images and reveals his talents as a writer. His photographs had been exhibited and collected by individuals and institutions, including the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.
One of Ray’s final wishes was that the bulk of his photographic archive be donated to the Huntington. He had worked with Jennifer Watts, Curator of Photography and he knew that his work would be appreciated at the Huntington.
Well, final wishes are easily spoken but making Ray’s wish a reality has taken effort by many. Ken Karagozian was chosen by Ray to be the caretaker and accepted the responsibility of physical custody of Ray’s archive. It includes hundreds of prints (matted, mounted, loose, signed, unsigned), slides, Polaroids, drawings, and 20,000+ 4×5 negatives. There are also files with records from workshops, brochures, posters, and notebooks filled with Ray’s writings on many subjects. Ray also left a collection of 1,000 art and photography books.
The first order of business after Ray’s passing was to organize. A storage unit was rented, shelf units were assembled, prints/negatives/transparencies were sorted into boxes and inventoried.
When this initial phase was complete enough, we contacted Jennifer Watts and she visited the storage unit to see the materials. Jennifer knew Ray, having visited his loft a few times. She had acquired several prints directly from him for the Huntington Library. She knew about most of his projects but had never seen the work in depth. On her visits to the archive, Jennifer looked into every box and got a full understanding of the breadth of Ray’s artistic activities. She was delighted to see a few projects that were unknown to her. For example there are a large number of abstract color Polaroids. Eventually Jennifer selected approximately 250 individual pieces and the materials were transferred to the Huntington in early 2016. The Huntington did not acquire the negatives or slides.
The art and photography books were handled next. Ray clearly loved his books with many of them were signed and inscribed to him. His interests as a reader were wide ranging including fiction, non-fiction, books by and about photographers and artists. He had dozens by painters, especially Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe. He had an impressive collection on the Southwest – photographic monographs, natural histories, Native American subjects such as rugs, pottery, and cliff dwellings. The Southwest books, including several by Ray’s friend John Nichols, were donated to the library at Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center in Abiquiu, New Mexico. The books will be used by scholars, students and visitors from around the world. We think Ray would be happy to know his books are at Ghost Ranch. The rest of the books were sold to dealers with the funds helping to support the archive activities.
We contacted Charlie Holland, an LA based independent photographer/archivist, who visited the archive at the storage unit and wrote a report describing and inventorying the remaining materials – prints, slides, b&w negatives, workshop materials, writings and remaindered copies of Explorations.
We hope to find an institution that will take the entire archive with the goal of extending Ray’s legacy through exhibition/publication and making his work available to scholars and researchers.
Going forward, we hope to enhance Ray’s presence on the internet. He has a website but it would be great for more people to find their way to Ray’s work.
Many friends have been involved with Ray’s archive so far. In addition to Ken, John Sexton and his wife Anne Larsen helped initially to set the up the archive after Ray’s passing in 2014 and John continues as a consultant. I joined in late summer that year and have been contributing sweat equity and ideas ever since. My sister, Joan Schipper, brings her librarian skills to the project. We all agreed it has been a privilege to be involved with Ray’s archive. Placing Ray’s work at the Huntington and the Southwest book collection at Ghost Ranch has been a big accomplishment.
The July/August 2014 issue of View Camera Magazine featured a tribute to Ray written by Eric Biggerstaff. The article included several of Ray’s photographs.