From IWU Magazine, Spring 2017 edition

In photographing the world, Norman Kerr ’52 also inspired his granddaughter

Story by TIM OBERMILLER

Kerr at Great Wall of China
Kerr, shown at the Great Wall of China, was one of the first U.S. photographers to travel throughout China after it reopened its doors to the West.

When Norman Kerr ’52 was photographing campus life at Illinois Wesleyan in the 1950s, he couldn’t have guessed that his future granddaughter, Anna Kerr-Carpenter ’17, would be using a camera to document life at the same college almost seven decades later.

At IWU, Norman was photography editor for the Argus, bringing to the student newspaper a striking visual element that had previously been lacking. He also took photos for the Wesleyana yearbook, working with fellow art major and future wife Ann Phillips ’54. After graduation, Norman served in the U.S. Army before returning to the States in 1954, when he married Ann and began a long career with Eastman Kodak that ended with his retirement in 1991.

In recent years, Anna has researched Norman’s life and cataloged his large collection of photos and equipment. Because he died when she was 5 years old, Anna says she has “mostly gotten to know him through his work and the legacy he left behind. He was very detail-oriented, and we still have some of his prints, equipment, books, etc., that have his notes all over them — mostly instructions on how to use something, so he wouldn’t forget.” She discovered that “many of his images were used in the ’64 New York City World’s Fair Kodak Pavilion. To gather the images, he traveled around the world. ... I found a diploma Pan Am gave him, certifying he had ‘circumnavigated the globe on Pan Am Airways.’”

China
Titled "China Sunrise," this 1986 photo was among 43 Coloramas taken for Kodak by Kerr.

Another career highlight was his work as photographer and creative director of Kodak’s famed Colorama display. Deemed the largest pictures of their day, these 60-foot wide, 18-foot high transparencies greeted visitors and commuters at Grand Central Station in New York City from 1950 to 1990. Several of those photos were returned to the famed terminal in 2012 for a special exhibit. Norman also wrote several articles for photography magazines, and his books on lighting techniques became standards in the field.

India
"Indian Bride" was among several of Kerr's photos taken during his global travels and later shown at the 1964 World's Fair.

Anna recalls the beautiful backyards her grandfather landscaped at family homes in Rochester, N.Y., and Sacramento, Calif. — and their shared love of orange sherbet. She was among family who surrounded him when he passed away peacefully in 2000. Though her memories of him may be few, Norman’s impact on her life is enormous. 

“It was my grandfather’s work as a professional photographer for Kodak that inspired me to make photography my main medium,” she says. “When I was 12 years old, I looked through a viewfinder for the first time and found my passion.”

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