Coke, (Frank) Van Deren 1921-2004

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COKE, (Frank) Van Deren 1921-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born July 4, 1921, in Lexington, KY; died July 11, 2004, in Albuquerque, NM. Photographer, museum curator, educator, and author. Coke was an experimental photographer and former curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he returned home to work for his family's hardware store for ten years. But Coke could not suppress his interest in art, and he attended the University of Kentucky to earn a degree in history and art history in 1956. This was followed by an M.F.A. in 1958 from Indiana University and three years of graduate study at Harvard. Coke also studied photography under Ansel Adams. Photography at the time was not a lucrative field for most practitioners, and so Coke took a job as assistant professor of art at the University of Florida in 1958. Next, he moved to Arizona, joining the Arizona State University faculty as an associate professor in 1961, and then the University of New Mexico, where he was director of the art museum from 1962 to 1979—with the exception of two years as director of the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, New York, from 1970 to 1972—and chaired the art department from 1963 to 1970. It was while with the San Francisco Museum of Art from 1979 to 1987 that many feel Coke made some of his most significant contributions to promoting photography as an art form. Coke, who felt free in his own photographic works to experiment and manipulate imagery, broke with traditionalists who believed that photography should strictly represent reality. As photography curator in San Francisco, he greatly expanded the museum's collection of photographs, including experimental pieces from Europe and America; he also organized touring exhibits that helped expand people's view of the possibilities of photography. After retiring, he continued to write and publish books, something he had been doing since his first book, 1963's Taos and Santa Fe: The Artist's Environment, 1882-1942. The recipient of numerous photography awards from the magazines Photography, Modern Photography, and U.S. Camera, Coke earned an honorary doctorate from the Academy of Art in San Francisco in 1986. Among his other published works are Impressionism in America (1965), Fabricated to Be Photographed (1979), and Secular and Sacred: Photographs of Mexico (1992).



Chicago Tribune, July 28, 2004, Section 3, p. 9.

Los Angeles Times, July 26, 2004, p. B7.

New York Times, July 27, 2004, p. C13.

Washington Post, July 29, 2004, p. B5.