By Andrew Gans
September 9, 2003
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has acquired a massive collection of 600,000 photos by Kenn Duncan.Among the collection are photographs of such luminaries as Bernadette Peters, Angela Lansbury, Carol Channing, Bette Midler, Eartha Kitt, Chita Rivera, Christopher Plummer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolf Nureyev, Tommy Tune and Twiggy as well as the late Gregory Hines and Peter Allen.
Duncan’s images were captured during the sixties, seventies and eighties and include photos from Broadway productions — The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Elephant Man, La Cage aux Folles and Sophisticated Ladies — and major dance companies: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, the Bolshoi Ballet and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
In a statement the Library’s Executive Director, Jacqueline Z. Davis, said, “This remarkable trove of studio portraits and production photographs perfectly complements the Library’s other documentation of personalities and productions from the same era. It will provide researchers with an unparalleled resource for investigating the performers and stage works of the time.”
In 1977 Duncan told The New York Times how he became a photographer. Said the artist, “I’d been a dancer and a skater, but injured my leg badly. While recuperating, I got a ‘gofer’ job with a photographer, and I gradually learned how to use the camera. I began to try to recapture the spirit of dancing through photography.” Duncan’s photos can also be seen in the book “Red Shoes,” which depicts celebrities in white costumes with accompanying red shoes, boots, sandals, sneakers, toe shoes or ballet slippers; and the two books of nudes, “Nudes” and “More Nudes.”
The Library believes the archive will be available to researchers by the end of 2006. A major retrospective exhibition of the photographs is also being planned for that time.