The Photography of Dick Swanson

About Dick Swanson

Richard C. "Dick" Swanson (1933-2009) was an award-winning American photographer known primarily for the black-and-white photographs he created in Michigan, South Florida, and North Carolina from the 1940s to the 1990s.

Swanson picked up photography in the mid-1940s as a teenager in Vassar, Michigan. He took photos for his high school while running a commercial photography business, shooting hundreds of photographs for local newspapers and businesses—in the process documenting virtually every aspect of small-town iife. Like the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers of the 1930s and early 1940s, Swanson understood that a documentary photograph could also have aesthetic value.

After a hiatus to attend college and dental school, and relocation to South Florida in 1961, Swanson resumed taking pictures as a purely artistic endeavor. During the 1970s and 1980s Swanson refined and mastered his craft through intensive darkroom experimentation and improvisational "street" photography, creating an extensive portfolio of images.

Swanson's images have appeared in numerous publications and won awards at many national juried exhibitions. Prints of many of the images are held in the collections of over 20 U.S. museums and other institutions.

PDF Download Dick Swanson's Biography

Dick Swanson
Dick Swanson, ca. 1984.

The Photographs

Dick Swanson often referred to his portfolio of older and newer works as “Second Generation Photographs” because they reflected two eras in America separated by 30 years in the life of the photographer:

  • First Period (1940s–1950s): Large format (4x5) photo journalism/social documentary photos (primarily from Vassar, Michigan)
    gallery icon View "First Period" Gallery
  • Second Period (1970s–1980s): SLR (35mm) abstract, darkroom experimentation, "street" and candid photos from various U.S. locales (primarily South Florida, as well as North and South Carolina, Minnesota, Oregon and California).
    gallery icon View "Second Period" Gallery

The older images are unique documents of post-World War II Michigan civic and daily life (and death), thematically similar to the work of Walker Evans and Weegee and created a decade before Robert Frank published The Americans. Here's a quote from a review of the 1986 exhibition New Developments: Contemporary American Photo Work at the Meisel Gallery in New York:

“Among the pictures with more of the old conviction I liked Dick Swanson's 'Memorial Park Dedication' (if this was correctly dated 1950, then it predates the images it at first appears to echo) ...”

— Vicki Goldberg, American Photographer, Oct 1986

Swanson's more recent images are excellent representatives of stylistic trends in mid-to-late 20th century art photography, comparable to the work of his contemporaries Elliott Erwitt, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand (with whom Swanson studied).

Garry Winogrand and Dick Swanson
Garry Winogrand and Dick Swanson, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1981.

Fine Art Prints Available for Purchase

We have a limited number of Dick Swanson's original black & white prints available for purchase. These are traditional gelatin silver prints Swanson printed himself in his darkroom in the 1970s–1990s using the original negatives. Gelatin silver prints are noticeably higher in quality than digital prints and have greater value as collectible works of fine art.

To see the available prints and purchase information, go to the top right of this page.

The Richard C. "Dick" Swanson Collection at the Bentley

In 2016 the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) agreed to acquire the Richard C. "Dick" Swanson Collection for its archive.

Bentley Historical Library logo

The Bentley has received (or will receive) Dick Swanson's core collection of hundreds of fine art prints, personal papers, and slides and negatives, as well as full copyright ownership. The archive eventually will be accessible online for research purposes. Note: There will be a "limbo" period during which Swanson Media will continue to handle licensing requests until the Bentley has acquired and processed the full collection and is ready to manage such requests.

Under a license agreement with the University, Swanson Media will continue to publish Dick Swanson's images (website, prints and books).

Updated 9 March 2022

Original Dick Swanson Fine Art Prints

Below are links to the Dick Swanson gelatin silver prints available for purchase. Most prints are unmounted/unmatted. Many are dry mounted on archival-quality mat board, while a few are fully matted. Several are signed and/or stamped/labeled by the photographer.

Prices range from $30 to $400 depending on print/mat size and condition, whether it is mounted/matted, and whether it is signed.

Print/mat condition grades (scale of 1 to 10):

10 (Flawless) — No noticeable imperfections (rare)
9 (Near Flawless) — Very minor flaw that most people would not notice (e.g., tiny spot on border)
8 (Excellent) — Minor flaw(s) visible only under close inspection (e.g., minor handling impressions or edge rippling on an unmounted print)
7 (Very Good) — Obvious minor flaws (e.g., more noticeable handling marks, rippling, dimpling, small spots or border creases)
6 (Good) — More prevalent flaws but they still don't detract too much from the image (e.g., extensive rippling or dimpling; small creases or several minor spots or stains)
5 (Fair) — Significantly flawed, worn or damaged (e.g., crease(s) through the image; more noticeable spots or stains)
4 or lower (Poor) — Severely flawed, worn or damaged (e.g., heavy creases; torn corners; large stains)

The average print condition is "8 (Excellent)" but be aware that many of these prints are over 30 years old. Many were displayed in exhibitions around the country; the prints/mats will show varying signs of handling and may have exhibition labels on the reverse. Many of the flaws on unmounted prints, such as handling impressions, rippling, or dimpling, could be mostly eliminated by having the prints professionally mounted and matted.

Click the thumbnail images below to see large views of the available prints, image/historical details, condition descriptions, and prices.

First Period (1940s-1950s)

Football Player

Four Generations

High School Cooks

Man Injured in Car Crash [#2]

Memorial Park Dedication

New Flag

Old Hotel Room

People from Estonia

Santa and Kids

Town Meeting

Upside-Down Truck

See other
First Period prints

Second Period (1970s-1980s)

Airplane Boy

Blue Jeans

Boy and Toy Gun

Disco Man

Fair Photographer

Flea Market Faces

Foil Artist

Frank and Alien

Frank by the Pool

La Coquille Club

Mattress (Charleston, S.C.)

The Picnic (South Carolina) [2 versions]

Tooth Tree
[4 variations]

Venice, California

See other
Second Period prints

Solution Graphics

If you have any questions about the prints, contact Mark Swanson