Born in 1914 in Shreveport, Louisiana, Pirkle Jones’ career began with the purchase of a Kodak Brownie when he was seventeen years old.
The former National Academy for the Arts fellow and San Francisco Arts Commission honor recipient, recorded the beauty and culture of California. His sensitivity to the the land reflected the tradition of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White, all of whom he knew well.
He served for four years in the US Army during WWII, with the 37th Division at Guadalcanal, Munda, and Bouganville in the South Pacific. In 1946, after his war service Jones entered the first class in photography at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). There he met a community of artists—among the instructors were Ansel Adams, Minor White, Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange–that would help to shape and define his career. Jones also worked as Ansel Adams’ assistant (1947-1953) and the two photographers forged a life-long friendship.
Dorothea Lange approached him in 1956 to collaborate on a photographic essay Death of a Valley. Jones later described the project with Lange as “one of the most meaningful photographic experiences of my professional life.”
“Pirkle Jones: Sixty Years in Photography” the artist’s retrospective, of more than 120 works was mounted by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 2001, with the companion book "Pirkle Jones California Photographs" published by Aperture. A documentary by filmmaker Jane Levy Reed, Pirkle Jones Seven Decades Photographed debuted in 2009.
His work is held by numerous museums and collectors. The major archive of his work is held at the University of California, Santa Cruz.