Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: fal00007

Gordon Ward Gahan photographs and papers


Photos and papers of the late photojournalist Gordon Ward Gahan. The materials consist chiefly of 35mm color slide photographs taken on assignment around the world for the National Geographic Society, 1968-1982; other materials include motion pictures, sound recordings, publications, correspondence and notes, and realia.


  • 1950-1984.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use. Please contact Special Collections, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction and/or publication of materials subject to copyright requires written permission from a) the copyright owner, his/her heirs or assigns and from b) the Fine Arts Library, owner of the original material.


33 cubic feet

The materials consist chiefly of 35mm color slide photographs taken on assignment for the National Geographic Society. The photos were intended for possible publication in the National Geographic Magazine and/or in books and other publications produced by the National Geographic Society. Assignment locations included Brazil, British Honduras, France, French Polynesia, Guatemala, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, New Hebrides, New Zealand, United States, West Germany, and elsewhere. Other materials include Super-8 movie footage, audiotape, newspaper clippings, student publications, correspondence, and realia.

Biographical / Historical

Born in New York, Gordon Ward Gahan attended Phillips Exeter Academy, 1959-1963, and Columbia University, 1963-1964; worked for United Press International, ca.1965-1967; was drafted into the U.S. Army and served as a photographer in Vietnam, 1966-1968. He worked as a contract photographer on various book and magazine assignments for the National Geographic, 1968-1972, and as a staff photographer for National Geographic Magazine, 1972-1982. In 1982 he left National Geographic to co-found a photo agency, Prism Photography, in New York. Gahan died in 1984.

Gordon Ward Gahan born November 5, 1945, at Sloane Hospital, Manhattan, to Alice M. Ward, 37 years old, housewife, and Edmund Gahan, 48 years old, owner of an oil well supply business.
Attends Harrison High School in Harrison, New York. Plays on football team.
Attends Phillips Exeter Academy. Serves on the Photographic Board of The Exonian, along with Randall Lewis, Larry Palmer, Silas Yates, Thomas Nash, and Thomas Plimpton. Serves on the Photographic Board of the Yearbook, along with Nicholas Deane, Daniel French, Randall Lewis, Jerome Mathiason, Davide Teele, and Christopher Wilson.
Attends Columbia University, New York. Completes courses in: Devl Westn Inst + Soc Ideas; College Composition 1; Eur Lit + Philos Mastrpiecs 1; Elementary Japanese; Taoist Thought + Its Developmnt; and Theories of Religious Behavior.
Gahan's photos are published through United Press International in various newspapers in the USA, including the Minneapolis Tribune, St. Cloud Daily Times, Kankakee Daily Journal, Moline Dispatch, Grand Rapids Press, Jacksonville Journal, De Kalb Daily Chronicle, and Schenectady Gazette. Photographic subjects include: the funeral of Malcolm X at the Faith Temple, Church of Christ, Harlem; San Juan, Puerto Rico; New Croton Reservoir, New York, during drought; New York Democratic State Chairman William H. McKeon, announcing his resignation; actors Candice Bergen, Larry Hagman, Paul Henreid, Monika Henreid, Walter Matthau; film director Sidney Lumet; Thunderbird Golf Tournament at the Westchester Country Club in Harrison, NY; New York mayoral candidate John Lindsay; Barbara Hyman, daughter of Bette Davis; Nazare, Portugal. Photo story "Flood Waters Rise" exhibited as an entry to World Press Photo 1966 in the Municipal Museum of the Hague, 12/16/66-1/29/67. Appointed newspictures manager of United Press International, Minneapolis.
Inducted into the United States Army. As Photographer, Information Office, Headquarters, US Army Vietnam, accompanies 173d Airborne Brigade in battle in November 1967 against the North Vietnamese on Hill 882 in the Republic of Vietnam. Awarded the Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart.
Works for the National Geographic Society as a contract photographer, 1968-1972, and a staff photographer, 1972-1982. Travels widely. Awarded Honorable Mention, 1970 Picture of the Year (National Press Photographers Association) for photo entitled "Japanese Couple."
Meets US President Richard Nixon at the White House.
Co-founds Prism Photography Inc. (in New York/Washington DC?)
On assignment in the Virgin Islands near St. Thomas, October 19, 1984, dies in a helicopter crash along with two others: Joseph Capitelli, art director at Wells Rich and Greene, and the helicopter pilot, Steve Booker.


Organized into the following series:

  1. 1. Photographs, ca.1950-1982
  2. 2. Audio-visual material, ca.1970-1980
  3. 3. Papers, 1967-1984
  4. 4. Publications, 1960-1967
  5. 5. Realia

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift to the Harvard University Art Museums, 2007 September 25. Transferred from the Harvard University Art Museums; received 2007 October 4.

Existence and Location of Copies

Selected materials are being digitized and will be available online and in the repository.

Related Materials

A selection of Gahan's National Geographic photos were printed posthumously for an exhibition in 1993 at Harvard's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. The photo prints are held by the Department of Photographs, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Art Museum .

Video recording of National Geographic's ca.1984 memorial tribute to Gahan is held by the Harvard Art Museum Archives .

Separated Materials

Negatives and printed photographs related to Gahan's work for United Press International and for the U.S. Army in Vietnam are held by the Department of Photographs, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Art Museum . The Museum also holds a scrapbook containing miscellaneous manuscript material such as National Geographic correspondence, US Army correspondence, a fewpersonal photos, and copies of other documents such as Gahan's birth certificate and Columbia University transcripts.

General note

Materials are in English.

Gahan, Gordon W. Gordon Ward Gahan photographs and papers, 1950-1984: Guide.
Fine Arts Library, Harvard Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Fine Arts Library Repository

The Fine Arts Library is among the leading libraries in the world for the study of art, architecture, and visual culture from antiquity to the present. Since 1895, FAL has served the needs of the visual arts community at Harvard, providing research and curricular support for all areas in the history of art, architecture, photography, and the decorative arts. FAL's archival collections may be consulted in the Special Collections Study Room by appointment only.

Littauer Center
1805 Cambridge Street
Harvard University North Yard
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-4656