Timothy Asch was an anthropologist and ethnographic film maker who devoted his professional life to using film as a recording and teaching medium. His papers cover the period from 1966 until his premature death in 1994 and reflect his active career in the field. A large portion of the files relates to his work among the Yanomami people of Venezuela and to his concern with bias in film making.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of Timothy Asch document his career as an anthropologist, educator,
photographer and filmmaker through correspondence, photographs, research files
(articles and notes), and teaching materials (course information and lecture notes). The
files relating to Asch's film projects include articles, field notes, and reviews. The major
correspondents in this collection are Patsy Asch, Tom Beidelman, Napoleon Chagnon,
James Fox, Robert Gardner, Douglas Lewis, Peter Loizos, David & Olga Sapir, and
The collection is arranged into the following 13 series:
Series 1) Correspondence (1953-1994)
Series 2) College and graduate School (1955-1965)
Series 3) Teaching materials (1964-1993)
Series 4) Film projects (1964-1991)
Series 5) Articles and reviews (1972-1994)
Series 6) Alpha-Subject (1955-1989)
Series 7) Conferences, film festivals, and film organizations (1963-1993)
Series 8) Grants (1962-1993)
Series 9) Other people's work (1952-1995)
Series 10) Personal and family (1951-1994)
Series 11) Photographs (1947-1991)
Series 12) Sound recordings (bulk 1960s-1970s)
Series 13) Note slips, rolodexes, and business cards (1987, undated)
Asch studied photography at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. While serving in the United States Army in Japan from 1951-55 he spent his off-duty hours photographing rice production and household activities in remote Japanese villages. After his military service, he enrolled in Columbia University graduating in 1959 with an undergraduate degree in Anthropology. After graduation, he went to work at the Peabody Museum at Harvard as an assistant editor to John Marshall on the Kung Bushmen film project. In 1964, he received a Masters Degree in Anthropology from Boston University where he studied in the African Studies Progam and read Anthropology with T.O. Beidelman at Harvard. In 1968, Asch and Marshall founded Documentary Educational Resources, a film distribution company. Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon approached Asch in 1968 to film among the Yanomammmi people of Venezuela. This collaboration led to a major project resulting in over thirty films.
1950-1951 -- California School of Fine Arts and Apprenticeships with photographers Minor White, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams
1953-1954 -- Military Service in Korea
1959 -- B.S. in Anthropology Columbia University
1959-1962 -- Ethnographic film consultant, Harvard University's Peabody Museum
1964 -- M.A. in Anthropology Harvard University
1965-1966 -- Curriculum Consultant, Ethnographic studies and the Bushmen Social Studies Curriculum Project (initially Educational Services, Inc., later called Educational Development Center)
1966-1968 -- Lecturer in Anthropology and Theater Arts, Brandeis University
1966-1968 -- Anthropology Curriculum and Media Consultant to the Newton Public Schools
1967-1994 -- Co-Founder and Director of Documentary Educational Resources, Watertown, Massachusetts, a non-profit curriculum development corporation distributing educational media
1968-1970 -- Visiting Assistant Professor, Anthropology Department, New York University
1969-1973 -- Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, Brandeis University
1973-1979 -- Research Fellow in Ethnographic film, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University
1974-1976 -- Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University
1975 -- Research Cinematographer, National Anthropological Film Center, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
1976-1981 -- Senior Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology, Institute of Advanced Studies, the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
1982 -- Visiting Research Scholar, Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
1983-1994 -- Director, Center for Visual Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California
The Human Studies Film Archives holds 93,000 feet (43 hours) of original film footage and the accompanying sound as well as the edited films from the 1968 and 1971 film projects by Timothy Asch and Napoleon Chagnon documenting the Yanomamo Indians of southern Venezuela and northern Brazil (between the Negro and Upper Orinoco rivers).
Donated to the National Anthropological Archives by Patsy Asch in 1996.
The Hector Acebes papers and photographs primarily contain Acebes' photographs from his expeditions in Africa and South America but also include journals, maps, press clippings, writings and publications by Acebes, and films.
The core of the collection are Acebes original negatives and contact prints, however there are several sets of enlargements of select photographs as well. Most contact sheets have some annotation on verso indicating the country, town, region, and/or community represented.
The papers include several journals Acebes kept during his South America expeditions (unfortunately his Africa journals were lost). Maps of Africa are annotated with Acebes' routes and places visited, and extensive press clippings cover and review Acebes travels, publications, and lectures.
The films comprise a seemingly random selection of motion picture films, sound elements and videos related to the production of industrial films on a variety of South American development projects by Hector Acebes for his own company Acebes Productions. According to the credits appearing on the films, the company was a partnership with the filmmaker's brother Juan Acebes. Most of the films are undated but dates appearing on the video transfers and dates ascertained from the film stocks indicate that the films were most likely produced in the 1970s-1990s. There are also videos of an interview with Acebes conducted by Ed Marquand, in circa 2003.
Please note that the contents of the collection and the language and terminology used reflect the context and culture of the time of its creation. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology and considered offensive today. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution or National Anthropological Archives, but is available in its original form to facilitate research.
The collection is arranged into three series: 1. Papers; 2. Photographs; 3. Film and video.
Biographical / Historical:
Hector Acebes (1921-2017) was an American photographer and filmmaker known for his photography from expeditions in Africa and South Amerca in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Acebes was born in New York City but grew up in Bogota, Colombia and Madrid, Spain. He later attended the New York Military Academy, and served in World War II on the European front. Following this, he studied engineering at MIT, graduating in 1947.
Acebes then began his career as photographer and filmmaker, making multiple expeditions in Africa and South America. His first African expedition was to Morocco and Algeria, but he later traveled throughout the continent. His last Africa trip was the most extensive, where he drove from Dakar to Zanzibar.
Among his expeditions in South America were journeys up the Orinoco River and excursions to visit various Indigenous communities including Guaica, Jivaro, Arhuaco, and Yuco peoples.
Acebes lectured about his travels and held exhibits of his photographs, which reveal a tendency toward portraiture of individuals. He also wrote several books, including Orinoco Adventure, about his attempt to find the headwaters of the Orinoco River.
Acebes later became an industrial filmmaker for engineering projects throughout South America. He died in Bogota.
The Hector Acebes papers and photographs came to the archives in four accessions. The first accession came in 1951 and was donated by Acebes himself, as were the two that followed in 1994 and 2016. The final accession, comprising the bulk of the collection, came to the archives in 2022 and was donated by Acebes' heirs.
The Hector Acebes papers and photographs are open for research. Access to the collection requires an appointment.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Donald M. Burmister Papers, 1927-1974, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Estimate of total reflectance from the Orinoco River outflow.
No restrictions on access.
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project Earth Observation and Photography Experiment, Acc. 1988-0127, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
Photographs made by Paul Beer and Felix DiGiovanni depicting indigenous people, primarily the Guahibo, as well as the natural and cultural features of the Vaupés region of Eastern Colombia.
Scope and Contents:
The collection consists of 85 photographic prints mounted on
paperboard, with annotations made by Genevieve Bellis, wife of Tom Bellis. Also included are 18 enlargements mounted on black paper with annotations (not Bellis') in Spanish, and a number written on the back. With one exception (Item 29), the enlargements are of the photographs mounted on paperboard.
The photographs depict the indigenous people of eastern Colombia, primarily the Guahibo tribe, as well as the natural and cultural features of the Vichada region. Other tribes represented in the photographs include the Piapoco, Guanano, Banibo, Casanare, Guayabero, and Tucano tribes. The location depicted in the images is in the Vichada region, unless otherwise indicated.
The photographs show the customs and daily activities of the tribes, including bathing, washing clothes, cooking, fishing, hunting, making arrows and dugout canoes, house-building, creating water pitchers from clay, weaving cloth from the bark of trees, and preparing for ceremonies.
Biographical / Historical:
Felix V. DiGiovanni (ca. 1913-1990) was an American engineer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker. He was raised in the Bronx and graduated with an engineering degree from The City College of New York in 1933. As a young man, he traveled throughout Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, and later became interested in documenting the eastern plains of Colombia, known as Los Llanos, as well as its inhabitants. In the late 1930s, he returned to Colombia to film a documentary on the indigenous people of the Vaupés region.
DiGiovanni's partner in the expedition was Paul Beer. Beer (1904-1979) was a German photographer active in Bogota, Colombia, in the late 1920s.
By 1941, DiGiovanni's documentary film about the Guahibo was completed. In 1944 he returned to Colombia to work with the U.S. Cinchona Mission, which comprised a team of scientists travelling to the Andes region to find cinchona trees, whose bark produces the alkaloid quinine, used for treating malaria.
DiGiovanni met Tom Bellis during this time. Bellis (1907-1993) was an officer with the Food and Drug Administration. From October 1942 until December 1945, he worked for the Board of Economic Warfare in Bogota, Colombia at the Instituto Nacional de Higiene Samper-Martinez. Here, he directed a laboratory which analyzed cinchona bark. In November 1945, Bellis purchased this set of photographs, along with 28 Guahibo artifacts, from DiGiovanni.
Felix DiGiovanni returned to New York in 1946 and became a mechanical engineer with a major oil company. In 1960, he completed a draft of a manuscript about his experiences with the Guahibo, titled The Call of the Curassow and the Land of the Guahibo Indians. He intended to publish it and also produce a Spanish translation, but he died December 31, 1990, before it could be finished. In 1994, Pauline DiGiovanni, DiGiovanni's widow, published 40 copies of the manuscript in English.
After the expedition with DiGiovanni, Paul Beer's photography focused primarily on architectural and industrial themes. He lived in Bogota until his death in 1979.
The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) holds the Felix V. DiGiovanni collection from Colombia, collection ID number NMAI.AC.300, donated by DiGiovanni's widow, Pauline DiGiovanni. It contains prints and negatives different from the NAA's collection, a 16mm film, and the book The Call of the Curassow and the Land of the Guahibo Indians. NMAI also has objects collected by DiGiovanni, including baskets, tools, necklaces, woven bags, hammocks, arrows, and pottery.
Along with the photographs, Genevieve Bellis donated 28 objects from the Guahibo tribe, which are held in the National Museum of Natural History's anthropology collections. These form accession number 400216, and include wooden bows, a woven hammock, arrows, a water jug, ceremonial necklaces, a gourd rattle, a reed tube rattle, a small gourd containing curare, incised spindle whorls, and bead necklaces.
The photographs were donated by Genevieve Bellis, widow of Tom Bellis, in 1995.