Harry Randall: Fifteenth International Brigade Films and Photographs
Language of Materials
Under the supervision of Harry W. Randall, Jr, the Photographic Unit of the 15th International Brigade was charged with documenting the activities of the Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. The collection consists of 3 reels and 1,832 images taken by the Unit from August 1937 to September 1938 and captures the daily life of the volunteers in combat, in the camps, and in the towns, villages, and across the rugged terrain where the Brigade trained and participated in the fighting. In addition, the collection documents political assemblies, congresses, celebrations and the everyday activities of the Spanish populace.
Harry W. Randall, Jr.
Harry W. Randall, Jr. was born in December 1915 in Spokane, Washington and raised in Portland, Oregon. He was the oldest of three children born to Harry W. Randall, Sr., an insurance adjuster, and Frances E. Randall, a schoolteacher. As a young man he developed an interest in motion pictures and, after graduating from Grant High School in 1934, enrolled in Reed College in Portland. While there he was drawn into a world of political action, joining with other progressive students on campus to support labor causes and to protest the rise of fascism in Europe. He collected food for striking maritime workers in 1934 and distributed leaflets at a lumber-workers strike in 1935. He left Reed after a year, found work as a projectionist for an advertising agency and, with a friend, began distributing foreign films in Washington State and Oregon.
When the Civil War erupted in Spain Randall enlisted in the International Brigades -- battalions of foreign volunteers that supported the Republican Army -- to fight against Franco's fascist forces. Randall sailed from New York on the S.S. Georgic on June 12, 1937, arriving in Spain on July 1, 1937. Following training with the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion in Tarazona he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and became the Chief Photographer of the Photographic Unit of the 15th International Brigade. He served in Spain until the withdrawal of the volunteer forces and returned to the United States on the S.S. Ausonia on December 20, 1938.
Randall relocated to Canada and found work with the National Film Board of Canada as the head of the Science Film unit. In 1944 he enlisted in the Canadian Army and served in England during the war making newsreels with the Film and Photo Unit. After the war, Randall resumed work with the National Film Board. He returned to New York City in 1952 and for the next 30 years produced, edited, and directed medical films. Randall married Doreen Cavalier, a registered nurse, in 1956 and the couple had two children and settled in Northern New Jersey. In 1983 Randall retired from the American Cancer Society after 18 years as the director of the organisation's film unit.
15th International Brigade Photographic Unit
The Photographic Unit of the 15th International Brigade was charged with creating a photographic record of the 15th Brigade for publication in the Brigade's newsletter Volunteer for Liberty, and for distribution to news outlets in the United States, England, and Canada. The photos were intended to boost the morale of the volunteers in Spain and foster sympathy and support for the Republican Army abroad. In addition to Randall, the unit was staffed by photographers Benjamin Katine and Anthony B. Drossel, as well as lab technician William H. Oderaka. The team was given full access to move about the camps, chronicling the troops at rest, and venturing to the front to capture scenes of the battalions in the trenches and under fire.
As part of their routine, each photographer logged and processed the film he shot. Every photograph was assigned a unique number, which was etched into the negative, and given a caption, which was recorded in one of five logs. Photographs were placed in albums, and copies were distributed to the press. Extra prints were sold to the troops for a nominal fee. Although initially successful in procuring the necessary photographic equipment to carry out their work, as the war progressed lack of film and printing paper hampered the unit's operation. Film development under battle conditions also proved challenging. Like the rest of the Brigade the development lab was a mobile unit, and was required to retreat or advance on short notice. On more than one occasion film and equipment were sacrificed or lost.
Following the war, Randall returned to the United States and brought with him the Brigade's photographic archives - negatives, albums of prints, and logs. In January of 1939 Randall spent several weeks in the New York Film and Photo League darkroom developing a complete set of fresh prints and making enlargements of all of the photographs taken by the unit in Spain. At the request of the British veterans, Randall also made 8x10 inch prints of images of the British Battalion and sent them along with copy negatives to the veterans' organization in England. In the intervening years the prints, negatives, and logs passed through many hands (most often fellow veterans). In the course of changing stewardship, many prints were dispersed, the original logs separated, and the albums disassembled. This collection represents the most complete record of the Photographic Unit's work in Spain.
When the Tamiment Library at New York University acquired the ALBA collections in 2001, the Randall collection was inventoried and reassembled. The images were assigned new control numbers (e.g. ALBA PHOTO 11-0001). Although the Photo Unit's handwritten logs have apparently vanished, the images have been matched whenever possible to their captions with the aid of extant typed transcriptions of the original lists. Where no captions were available, a brief description of the image appears in brackets.
This collection is organized into six series based on format, with the photographs series representing the five original subseries (A-E) established by the Photographic Unit.
Within each subseries, images are arranged in roughly chronological order.
- Series A: Miscellaneous, August 1937 - May 1938
- Series B: Individual Portraits, September 1937 September 1938
- Series C: Group Portraits, September 1937 August 1938
- Series D: Miscellaneous, September 1937 June 1938; August 1938
- Series E: Miscellaneous, January 1938 September 1938
- Series F. Films
NOTE: Use ALBA PHOTO # for ordering and physical retrieval of prints and negatives. Negatives in this collection from the International Brigades Archives: Selected Images are housed in ALBA PHOTO #177.
Scope and Content Note
The Harry Randall: 15th International Brigade Photograph Collection spans the period from August 1937 to September 1938 and contains 1,832 black and white images taken by members of the Photo Unit of the 15th International Brigade during their tour of duty in Spain. The collection is comprised of 3 reels, 1,534 original negatives (ranging in size from 1.1 x 1.5 to 3 x 4.25 inches), and 626 prints (ranging in size from 1.5 x 1 to 8 x 10 inches). Some of the prints came directly from the albums created by the Photo Unit; original numbers and notations are in Randall's hand and the black paper from the photo album still adheres to the back of the prints. The collection also includes 348 copy negatives of which 203 were acquired by ALBA in the 1990s from the International Brigade Archives, housed in the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History, Moscow. A number of the images are available in more than one format. Consult the collection inventory for details.
The collection documents the activities of the battalions that made up the 15th International Brigade including the American Lincoln and Washington Battalions (commonly known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade); the British Battalion; the Canadian MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion; the Dimitroff Battalion (volunteers from Yugoslavia); and the 24th Spanish Battalion (volunteers from Cuba). The images capture the daily life of the volunteers in combat, in the camps, and in the towns, villages, and across the rugged terrain where the Brigade trained and participated in the fighting. In addition, the collection documents political assemblies, congresses, celebrations and the everyday activities of the Spanish populace. Also included are images of visiting dignitaries, journalists and observers including Earl Browder, American military attache Stephen Fuqua, Robert Minor, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Meyer Levin and Joseph North.
Materials are open to researchers. Please contact the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives for more information and to schedule an appointment, firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-998-2630.
Copyright status varies across the collection. Copyrights held by original creators of individual items in the collection are expected to pass into the public domain 120 years after their creation. Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) were transferred to New York University in November 2000 by the ALBA Board of Governors. Permission to publish or reproduce ALBA materials must be secured from the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. For more information, contact email@example.com or 212-998-2630.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date; Harry Randall: Fifteenth International Brigade Films and Photographs; ALBA PHOTO 011; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.
The Harry Randall: 15th International Brigade Photograph Collection represents a substantial portion of the work done by the Photo Unit during the Spanish Civil War. A large body of original negatives and prints was brought to New York from Spain by Harry Randall, who produced additional prints, some of which were distributed to surviving veterans or used in publications. The bulk of the material was left in the Veterans' office, and over the years some of the items were dispersed or lost. Randall and the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade donated the remaining material to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives in July 1999. This collection came to New York University in January 2001 as part of the original acquisition of ALBA collections, formerly housed at Brandeis University.
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Access copies for films are available by appointment for reading room viewing only. Please contact the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives for more information and to schedule an appointment, firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-998-2630.
Funding for the digitization of film reels and negatives in this collection was provided by Rickard and Carol-Jeanette Jorgensen, in honor of Harry W. Randall, Jr., head of the 15th International Brigade Photo Unit, and Doreen Randall.