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Luke Swank
(American, 1890-1944)
Blast Furnaces, Lower Cambria Works, n.d., c. 1930
Vintage silver print, 9 3/16” x 7 1/4”
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Wilson (90.038)

Luke Swank was recognized for his ability to combine compelling documentary images with a strong sense of design and atmosphere.  His best-known works are his photographs of Pennsylvania’s steel mills, in which both human and industrial elements seem to flow together naturally.  Lower Works, Cambria City is one of Swank’s earliest images, and shows the tonality and soft focus characteristic of Pictorial Photography.  Swank would later adopt a more sharp-edged “straight” approach while retaining the poetic feel of his subject.

Swank pursued various occupations before he sold his first photographs at the age of 40.  Within two years, his images of the Bethlehem Steel Company’s Johnstown mills were hailed by photography dealer Julien Levy, who gave Swank a one-person show at his New York gallery in 1932.  That same year, Swank sent a large photomural to an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.  Over the next few years, Swank’s reputation grew rapidly, and by the end of the decade, he had staged several exhibitions, had taught photography courses at the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University, and had opened his own studio in Pittsburgh.  Much in demand as a commercial photographer as well, Swank was perhaps at the height of his career when he died in 1944, aged 54 years.