Through Fred Kent’s Lens: Images of UI History

It’s safe to say that Old Gold’s monthly forays into University of Iowa history wouldn’t be possible without the work of Fred Kent. For some 50 years, Kent captured UI life—both the everyday and the extraordinary—in photographs.

A few of these photos currently hang in the Old Capitol Museum’s Hanson Family Humanities Gallery. The exhibit, “The U of I Through the Lens of Fred W. Kent,” draws on the 50,000-plus prints and negatives in the University Archives collection that bears Kent’s name.

Kent didn’t take every picture in the collection—indeed, some of its images predate his 1894 birth. But he was instrumental in preserving the University’s pictorial history, documenting the 1920s through the 1960s, and setting the standard for subsequent campus photographers.

As a student, Kent began taking pictures of UI football games, printing up photo postcards, and selling them for a nickel apiece at a local drugstore. That enterprising streak animated his career.

Kent taught photography and designed new cameras, founded the University Photo Service (which he managed from 1947 to 1963), pioneered three-dimensional stereographs for physicians, and wrote Eastman Kodak’s first medical photography manual.

His photos of Old Capitol’s 1922 restoration helped guide later work on the building, and in 1984 the Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission honored his contributions to the community. Kent was also an avid naturalist and birder—F.W. Kent Park west of Iowa City is named for him.

Fred Kent died in 1984, but he more than left his mark. See below for selections from the Kent collection available in the Iowa Digital Library or, if you’re on campus, stop by the Old Capitol exhibit that runs through Aug. 1.

—David McCartney, University Archivist

click here to view the photos without flash

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A rare photograph album documenting 1920s African American student life on the University of Iowa campus finds a new home in the University Archives. Alumnus Patrobas Cassius Robinson (BA ’27) would be pleased.
photograph of African-Ameircan students

Source—Papers of Patrobas Cassius Robinson (RG 02.09.23), University of Iowa Archives, Dept. of Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries

If you’ve got memories to share, please send them to Spectator@IOWA and we’ll run some next month.

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