Neal Douglass Photograph Archive
A Preliminary Inventory of the Collection
Neal A. Douglass, Jr. was a news and commercial photographer based in Austin, Texas, active from the late 1930s through the 1960s.
Born on April 14, 1900 in Snyder, Texas to Neal Augustus Douglass, Sr. and Mary Alice Temple Douglass, Neal Douglass, Jr., followed in his parents' footsteps and worked in the newspaper industry. His parents ran the Roaring Springs Echo and later began a newspaper in Littlefield, Texas. The family moved to Pocahontas, Arkansas where Douglass, Jr. met and married Catherine Hughes. The couple moved to Lubbock, Texas, and Douglass, Jr. became the editor of the Lubbock Avalanche. The couple had a daughter, Sarah, but Neal and Catherine divorced, and she moved with their daughter back to Arkansas.
By 1929 Douglass had moved to Austin, Texas and was working as a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. On June 25 of that year he married Elnora Ruddell. Douglass then worked for the San Angelo Standard, wrote for the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce's Board of City Development, and helped to promote the city in Chihuahua, Mexico. Then, Neal and Elnora moved to Texarkana, Texas and he became a reporter for the Texarkana Press. Before long he was working for the newspaper in McAllen, Texas, and then returned to the Austin American-Statesman 1934.
As of 1935, the Austin American-Statesman did not have a staff photographer. The paper offered the position to Douglass, and sent him to take a crash course on photography at the University of Texas. He used a Speed Graphic camera. The paper did not have its own darkroom facilities, so Douglass fashioned his own in his home kitchen where Elnora would help Douglass develop his negatives.
Early staff photographers for the Austin American-Statesman working under Douglass included Nolan Borden, Pat Cahill, Ray Child, Harold Gully, Julian Hovey, Bill Malone, Bill Monroe, Charlie Neal, Mike Olive, and Mrs. Joe Jacks who coordinated darkroom activity.
Douglass made an arrangement with the paper that would allow him to run his own commercial photography business alongside the photojournalism work he did for the paper. So in addition to news stories, he would photograph weddings, anniversaries, family reunions, politicians, buildings, car accidents, and other commercial subjects. He also enjoyed aerial photography. He learned to fly from Doc Hale Flying service, earning his license in 1940. He co-owned a plane with Johnny Cuneo of Johnny Cuneo Bakery.
In 1942, after the U.S. had entered World War II, he volunteered to serve in the Signal Corps of the 7th Service Command. He worked as a photographer, stationed at the Santa Fe building in Dallas. Elnora ran their photography business in Austin while he was away until 1943. After the war he returned to his business. He advertised heavily during holidays, offering family portraits for Christmas, Easter, and Mother's Day. He officially left the Statesman in 1954 and opened his own studio in the Perry-Brooks building in the same year.
Douglass and Elnora had had two daughters, Connie and Carolyn Neal, born in 1931 and 1936 respectively. The couple divorced in 1939. Douglass remarried in 1946, to Patricia Kruger. Like Elnora, Patricia worked closely with Douglass in his photography business. Patricia would work in the darkroom while Neal was out on assignment. In 1962 they closed the photography business and retired to a ranch near Liberty Hill, Texas.
Douglass died in 1983 and is buried in Lakeland Hills Memorial Park near Longhorn Caverns in Burnet County.
Tens of thousands of photographs by Neal Douglass and his staff document Austin's people, businesses, and events from the late 1930s through the early 1960s. It is unclear whether work Douglass did for the Austin American-Statesman is part of this collection or if these photographs are solely from his commercial business. The majority of photographs are by Douglass himself, but some work was done by other photographers on his staff (many of whom also worked for the Statesman), especially Mike Olive, Julian Hovey, and Bill Monroe. There are some photographs present by his wife Elnora.
Douglass's commercial photography work consists of a wide variety of types of jobs. Much of the collection consists of portraits for individuals and families (especially for holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and weddings), politicians, and businesspeople. Portraits were often informal, taken in a client's home or office and never in a studio setting. Prominent individuals documented in the collection include Governor Price Daniel, Governor Beauford Jester, Governor W. Lee O'Daniel, Governor Allan Shivers, Governor Coke Stevenson, Mayor Tom Miller, Mayor Bill Drake, Ralph Yarborough, Bascom Giles, Cactus Pryor, Heman Sweatt during his registration at UT, athletes such as Harvey Penick, and centenarian Civil War Veteran Thomas E. Riddle, among others.
In addition to photographing individuals, Douglass did a lot of work for businesses and groups. Insurance companies such as Austin Life Insurance Company, Farmers Insurance Group, Flahive Claims Service, and Dunlap Claims Service hired Douglass to document automobile wrecks and other accidents. Businesses commissioned Douglass to take interior and exterior shots of their buildings, event shots, as well as product shots for advertising purposes. Local companies that are well represented in the collection include the Austin American-Statesman, Austin National Bank, Brackenridge Hospital, Braniff Airways, the Cerebral Palsy Center, Goad Motor Company, J.M. Odom Construction Company, R.E. Janes' Bar Nothing Turkey Ranch, Jefferson Chemical Company, Frank Scofield's cattle ranch, Southern Union Gas Company, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, Texas State Bar, and Walker's Austex Chili Company among many others. Documentation of social clubs and organizations in the collection includes images of regular club activities as well as special events, such as official pinning ceremonies, award ceremonies, banquets, and ground-breaking ceremonies for new construction. Some schools, such as the old Anderson High School, Kealing Junior High School, Casis Elementary School, various church schools, some rural schools, and some colleges and universities have some of their facilities, staff and students documented in the collection.
Douglass' work also includes photographs of sporting events, parades, and political happenings such as bill signings at the Capitol, as well as view of the Capitol grounds. While most commissions were from customers in Austin, some clients were located in outlying areas, other Texas cities and towns, and occasionally in other states. The collection also includes some copy negatives Douglass produced for clients from older photographs.
The bulk of the items in the collection are negatives, but there are some prints as well. Negatives are primarily 4x5 inches though there are some 5x7-inch negatives and a very small amount of smaller formats. The vast majority of images are black-and-white but a few color transparencies are present, primarily through the later years. The prints in the collection are not extensive and are primarily contact proof prints made to show to clients. Because they were not finished prints, many were not developed or fixed well and are discoloring as a result. Many were creased to indicate cropping lines. A very small number of jobs have prints without corresponding negatives or no negatives at all. Some jobs also have manuscript notes, business cards or other pieces of ephemera stored with the prints.
Restrictions on Access
Open to all users. Because the collection is not fully processed, not all negatives may be accessible.
Restrictions on Use
The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
The collection was donated by Neal Douglass's daughter, Connie Vanzura.
Neal Douglass Photograph Archive (AR.2005.048). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/1992/017
Donation Date: 18 November 2005
Numerous volunteers assisted with processing. Finding aid created and encoded by Nicole Davis/2016. Updated August 2017.
More than 3,770 negatives from this collection have been digitized and are available through the Portal to Texas History.
Detailed Description of the Collection