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Guide to the Harry Randall: Fifteenth International Brigade Films and Photographs ALBA.PHOTO.011

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Elizabeth Compa, Evan Daniel, Laura Helton, Julie Kessler, Gail Malmgreen, Porsche Martin and Jessica Weglein

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on October 11, 2018
Description is in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical/Biographical Note

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.