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© Gigi Williams

From Streets to the Lab: A Little Bit About Ida Wyman

Howard J. Radzyner, RBP, FBCA

We met early in my career through local BPA (now BCA) meetings and we overlapped a bit when we were both at Columbia University’s College of Physicians & Surgeons. Yet, I knew nothing of the wonderful – and prominent – career that Ida Wyman had before she came to the world of biomedical photography. Members who attended the BIOCOMM 2023 meeting in Santa Fe had the opportunity to see an exhibition of her “Street Photography” at the Monroe Gallery just down the street from the meeting hotel.

At 16, Ida became the first “girl” hired by Acme News Pictures (now United Press International) first working in the mailroom and then as a darkroom printer. Let go by Acme as male photographers came back from WWII service, she began to freelance for magazines and was soon published in LOOK (the #2 picture magazine to #1 LIFE). Taking an interest in the newly defined “documentary photography” movement Ida began to photograph life as she saw it in NYC and joined the influential Photo League. The League was a progressive group committed to “honest photography” of people and their environment and almost one-third of its members were women, some of whom served in leadership roles. In 1948 Ida headed to California and Hollywood. While there she worked regularly for LIFE photographing stars such as James Cagney, Elizabeth Taylor and Ronald Reagan among over 100 assignments.

After a hiatus taken to begin her family Ida returned to full-time photography in 1962 taking a position at Haskins Laboratories (an independent research organization now incorporated into Pace University). She joined the pathology department at Columbia in 1968 eventually becoming the Chief Photographer for the department. Ida was active as a BPA member and was published in the Journal of Biological Photography. She left Columbia in 1983 and resumed freelance work for magazines and other clients.

Ida retired to Wisconsin in 1990 and was able to take an active role in the many gallery shows of her work; achieving some of the recognition that had escaped her in the early period of her work. Writing with Melanie Herzog she completed a memoir titled Chords of Memory.

For more detailed information about Ida and a selection of her photographs see the extensive New York Times obituary at Ida Wyman, Whose Camera Captured Ordinary People, Dies at 93 - The New York Times ( or at REMEMBERING IDA WYMAN - think orange (