Label Text: Prentice Herman Polk, or P.H., as most people called him, believed that photographs give people dignity, respect and immortality. He spent his entire career photographing hundreds of black Americans, attempting to capture the energy and soul of each on film. Whether a close-up portrait that records an intense expression as seen in Phil Rowell or one that tells a story about the figures like Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Washington, Polk provides us with a glimpse into these person's lives and personalities.
Born in Bessemer, Alabama, one of four children and the son of a coal worker and a seamstress, Polk worked his way through school, including night school at the Tuskegee Institute. He opened various photography studios throughout his career and eventually became the Official Photographer of the Tuskegee Institute (now University). Polk held that position from 1939 until his death in 1984. In that capacity, Polk had the opportunity to record the important faces and places of that institution throughout much of the 20th century. But he also photographed the middle class African-Americans who frequented his studio as well as farmers and laborers who reminded him of his Southern rural childhood.