Gordon Ward Gahan (1945–1984) began taking photographs as a teenager at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he was a member of the photographic boards of the Pean, the school yearbook, and the Exonian, the school newspaper. After graduating from Phillips Exeter in 1963 he enrolled at Columbia University, but left after his freshman year to pursue photojournalism full time. This was the beginning of a twenty-year career as a professional photographer that would send Gahan around the world taking pictures for United Press International (UPI), the United States Army in Vietnam, and the National Geographic Society. Along the way, he became the youngest bureau chief in UPI history; earned oﬃcial praise, along with two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, for his service and heroism in Vietnam; and was both a ﬁrst-place winner and an honorable-mention recipient in the National Press Photographers Association Picture of the Year competition. In 1982, after more than ten years with National Geographic, Gahan became the cofounder of Prism Photography, an independent agency specializing in advertising photography. Gahan’s life and career were cut short two years later when he was killed in a helicopter accident while taking aerial photographs for a client in the Virgin Islands.
Comprising approximately 180 gelatin silver prints and contact sheets, and 3,200 black-and-white 35mm negatives and color slides that Gahan made for UPI and the army, the Gordon Ward Gahan Collection is part of the Harvard Art Museums’ photographic holdings. A small selection of Gahan’s work for the National Geographic Society had previously been acquired for the Carpenter Center Photograph Collection, which was transferred to the Art Museums in 2002. Gahan’s family donated the balance of the collection in 2007. About 70,000 color slides, produced during Gahan’s tenure with the National Geographic Society, are part of Harvard University’s Fine Arts Library.
This website provides access to over three thousand photographic objects produced by Gahan for United Press International and the US Army in Vietnam, contextualized within a biographical and historical overview of Gahan, UPI, and military photography during the Vietnam War. A searchable database allows visitors to explore Gahan’s photographs, and short descriptive essays provide information on diﬀerent parts of the collection. A selection of representative images accompanies each essay. Also included are general resources related to photojournalism and combat photography, the two areas of Gahan’s work represented in the Art Museums’ collections.