Mildred Hansen Baker, 1937
Prentice Herman Polk, photographer
Gelatin silver print, 8.8”x12.5”
Anacostia Community Museum
©1981 Estate of P.H. Polk and South Light
Prentice Herman Polk was born in 1898, in Bessemer, Alabama. He attended Tuskegee Normal and Technical School and dreamed of being a painter. But at that time, Tuskegee did not offer a program in the fine arts. When a photography instructor named C. M. Battey asked for students with an artistic temperament to come see him, Polk arrived in the teacher’s office with drawings in hand. Polk spent three years under Battey’s tutelage.
After his third year at Tuskegee, Polk left school and went to work in the shipyards in Mobile County, Alabama. While working, he enrolled in a correspondence course in photography. He moved to Chicago in the early 1920s, and apprenticed himself to a commercial photographer.
Polk returned to Tuskegee in 1927 and joined the photography department at Tuskegee Institute. In 1939, he became the school’s official photographer, a position he held for forty-five years.