Ulli Steltzer (1923-2018): Photographer

The Manuscripts Division notes with sadness the passing of photographer Ulli Steltzer on 27 July, at age 94, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Steltzer was a long-time resident of Princeton, where she worked as a professional photographer from 1957 to 1972. She became a good friend of the Princeton University Library and the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, especially curators Alfred Bush and Gillett Griffin. In 2013, she donated her extensive papers and photographic archives to the Library with all copyright. The Ulli Steltzer Papers (C1454) were organized and described as part of the holdings of the Manuscripts Division, with a finding aid.

Steltzer was born Ursula Goetz in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, the daughter of two art historians. She emigrated to the United States in the 1950s with her two children and moved to Princeton in 1957 to become a professional photographer for the Princeton Packet. Her Princeton photographs include J. Robert Oppenheimer, Paul Dirac, Jacques Maritan, John O’Hara, Ben Shahn, Marian Anderson, George McGovern, Adlai Stevenson, Roger Sessions, Igor Stravinsky, and other prominent Princeton intellectuals and distinguished visitors. In an autobiographical sketch prepared for the Library, Steltzer noted, “After working for the Packet for two years, they let me have their studio on Tulane Street to run my own business. That gave me the freedom I had always wanted, and I started to work on my own projects, some of them for several weeks out of town.” On frequent auto trips across the United States, armed with her Rolleiflex double-lens reflex camera, Steltzer photographed and interviewed African American families in the South, as well as Hopi, Navajo, and Pueblo peoples in New Mexico and Arizona. Steltzer photographed migrant workers and urban poverty in New Jersey, Ohio, and Illinois; immigrants in Los Angeles and San Diego; African American communities and civil rights activists, including the March on Washington (1963) [see image below] and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1968).

In 1972, Steltzer relocated her studio to Vancouver. There she befriended prominent Haida artists, such as carvers Robert Davidson and Bill Reid, who would become her frequent collaborators. Steltzer documented the art, culture, and traditions of the Haida and other First Nations coastal tribes, as well as the Inuit, with whom she lived for several months. Traveling widely throughout the Americas and Asia during her long career, Steltzer also documented life in Guatemala, Cuba, China, and India. Her photographs have been exhibited widely in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and have appeared in at least a dozen books and collaborations, beginning with Indian Artists at Work (1976).

The Ulli Steltzer Papers include approximately 47,000 black-and-white negatives, contact sheets, and silver-gelatin prints, as well as manuscripts, notebooks, research files, correspondence, pamphlets, and diaries related to a number of published and unpublished photography projects spanning her entire career, from the late 1950s through 2008, including both her early Princeton portraits and later documentary photography of native peoples. Related textual materials accompany the photographs, including drafts for books and exhibition catalogs, research notes, travel diaries, transcripts of interviews, receipts, bound volumes and pamphlets, and correspondence with publishers, collaborators, and people photographed. Steltzer also donated photographic prints to the Graphic Arts Collection.

For more information about the Ulli Steltzer Papers, contact Public Services at rbsc@princeton.edu

Ulli Steltzer, Contact sheet with photographs of the March on Washington, August 1963

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