Joe Munroe on Ohio Memory

Ranch hands eating an early breakfast, near the 3V Ranch in Seligman, Arizona, 1963.

One of the many impressive archives that the Ohio Historical Society holds is that of photographer Joe Munroe, and Ohio Memory has recently added a new selection of photographs and negatives from this fantastic collection for our users to enjoy. Many of the photographs available to view will also appear in an exhibit of Munroe’s photographs scheduled to open September 5th at the Ohio History Center, and we hope you’ll take the opportunity to explore these images both online and in person!

Morning milking near Webberville, Michigan, 1947.

Born in Michigan in 1917, Munroe began working as a professional photographer in 1939 at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In addition to teaching at the academy, he served as the staff photographer, creating images of the the faculty, students, and activities of the institution. He left Cranbrook during World War II to enlist in the U.S. Air Force, where he worked as a public relations photographer.

After the end of the war, Munroe began working for Cincinnati-based Farm Quarterly Magazine. The work consisted primarily of photographing farm and rural life subjects, and by the 1950s he had established himself as a premier agricultural photographer. Perhaps because he was raised in the urban environment of Detroit, Munroe was able to bring to his assignments a fresh, unique quality that came to characterize his work in the future. Munroe has said that the years he spent in Ohio, from approximately 1945 to 1954, were truly the formative years of his career, as it was here that the warmth and directness of his style as an artist developed. His body of work beginning with his time in Ohio provides an intimate look at the changing nature of rural life in the post-war years, offering a valuable glimpse into a fundamental piece of the American story.

Mrs. Wagner’s Rolling Store, 1953.

Throughout his career, Munroe went on to photograph a broad range of subject matter, including politicians, authors, cattle drives, news and human interest, and the environment, which has always been a passion of his. As a freelance photojournalist, his photographs appeared in a number of major magazines, including Life, Time, National Geographic, and Ladies Home Journal. He also made his mark as a filmmaker, making documentary films on environmental and agricultural topics that have won numerous awards, as well as films for corporations and public broadcasting. After a career of 60 years, Munroe retired to California, where he now lives.

The Joe Munroe Archives covers the long arc of Munroe’s career, and includes approximately 3,000 photographic prints, 4,000 color transparencies, and almost 60,000 photographic negatives. Extensive audiovisual material and memorabilia make up the rest of this remarkable collection, and while we only have a selection of images currently available on Ohio Memory, we are actively working to expand our digital offerings. Check back often to see what new photographs have been added, and be sure to visit the Ohio History Center later this fall to see the exhibit for yourself!


A couple hand-milking their cows, 1952.

Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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