Briscoe Center Acquires the Jerry Cooke Photographic Archive
Thanks to the generosity of Mary Cooke, the Briscoe Center is now home to the photographic archives of renowned documentary and news photographer Jerry Cooke. His breakthrough photo essay “Bedlam 1946” for Life magazine (right, below) led to a public outcry that galvanized support for mental health institutions throughout the United States. He went on to work for Fortune, Colliers, Time, and especially Sports Illustrated, for whom he shot over fifty cover images between the 1950s and 1970s.
“Jerry Cooke’s outstanding body of work joins that of his peers in the center’s ever-growing news and documentary photography collections,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “I’d like to thank Mary Cooke for working with me to bring this outstanding archive to the center, where it will be processed and made available for teaching and research.”
Jerry Cooke was born Yuri Kutschuk in 1923 in Odessa, Ukraine. He grew up in Berlin, Germany, where his father, George Kutschuk, sold photographs to European publications and his aunt, Cecile Kutschuk, studied journalism at the Rhine University and worked at the Associated Press. In 1936, as Adolf Hitler cemented his authority in Germany, the Kutschuk family fled to Milan, Italy, only to flee again in 1939. They ended up in Seattle, Washington, via India and Japan. Once in the United States, Yuri Kutschuk was anglicized to Jerry Cooke.
During World War II, Cooke became an apprentice at the Pix news photography agency in New York City, which had been co-founded by his aunt, Cecile Kutschuk. He worked in the darkroom but was also given a camera, a Rolleiflex, with which he first honed his trade. On V-Day in 1945, Cooke shadowed Alfred Eisenstaedt on the streets of New York, witnessing firsthand “Eisie” capturing a now-iconic image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square. The following year, he authored the breathtaking and haunting “Bedlam 1946” photo essay for Life magazine. The award-winning project was later selected for the pioneering exhibition, The Family of Man, which premiered at the Museum of Modern Art before travelling globally.
In 1950, Fortune hired Cooke to document Milwaukee factories. Cooke spent the entire summer visiting and photographing twenty-six different workplaces. The resulting article, “Made in Milwaukee,” appeared in Fortune’s November 1950 issue to much acclaim. In 1956, Cooke was one of the first westerners allowed into post-Stalin Russia. The photo essay “A New Look at Soviet Russia”was published in Sports Illustrated the following year. Over the next thirty years, Cooke produced 47 covers for Sport’s Illustrated. He also shot sixteen Olympics and 42 Kentucky Derbys.
Throughout his stellar career, Cooke traveled to over 100 countries, while also crafting portraits of many political figures, including presidents Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, and Dwight Eisenhower as well as Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. His work in the 1980s, photographing urban conditions all over the world, resulted in the 1989 book The Exploding City, published by the United Nations.
Since 2005, the Cooke Photographic Archive has been managed by Mary Cooke, who curates www.jerrycookearchives.com and produced “Jerry Cooke the Photographer,” a short documentary film directed by Lily Henderson. The archive spans a broad range of Cooke’s artistic, documentary, and sports journalism from 1939 through the mid-1990s. It includes thousands of negatives, color transparency slides, prints, tear sheets, job notes, and correspondence and well copies of the film, “Jerry Cooke the Photographer.”
“Jerry was an amazing man. He spoke five languages, was confident and intellectual, but also caring and sentimental. His sense of humor was often reflected in his photographs,” said Mary Cooke. “I’m glad to know the work of organizing and preserving the archive will continue, and that it will eventually become available to students of photography, professors, historians, and other scholars.”