Richard K Shirk was born in Syracuse, New York, on 24 July 1924. A professional photographer, he began his career in 1939 at the Grosse Point News in Michigan. In 1942, he worked for B F Goodrich in Ohio before joining the United States Army Air Force in 1943 as a photographer. After initial training in Colorado he was attached to the 155th Night Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, based in Somerset and Oxfordshire, England. He became a photography crew chief, improvising equipment and repairing aerial cameras and worked with Dr Harold Edgerton on the development of electronic flash for night photography.
When off-duty, Shirk photographed bomb damage, local surroundings, landscapes, air force life and the local population. His interest in reportage photography continued when the squadron was based in northern France and later in Gemany, over which he also took many hundreds of aerial photographs using his personal camera. In addition to unique reportage photographs, he took noteworthy oblique aerial photographs of bomb damaged German cities, the bridge at Remagen and Dachau concentration camp whilst still occupied by prisoners.
After the war, Shirk attended Kenyon College, Ohio, married and started a family. He served an apprenticeship in commercial advertising photography under Charles Kerlee in New York and in 1950 he established his own photographic business in Detroit, Michigan, specialising in automotive and architectural photography. Over the following nineteen years, hee expanded his studio and undertook commissions for various companies including Bendix Corporation, 3M Corporation and Dow Chemical Company.
Shirk retired from commercial photography in 1975, devoting himself to teaching, at Western Michigan University and Wayne State University, and fine art photography. Shirk and his wife moved to Monterey County, California in 1984. He died in 1985.
Conditions Governing Access
Catalogued and available on the NCAP website.
The photographs were held by Beth Shirk, daughter of Richard Shirk, who gifted them to NCAP after watching the PBS documentary '3D Spies of WWII' in 2012.
Other Finding Aids
Electronic index on NCAP website.
Resource Rights Holder
Scope and Contents
The photographs show bomb damage, local surroundings, landscapes, air force life and the local population in England, as well as oblique aerial photographs of bomb damaged German cities, the bridge at Remagen and Dachau concentration camp.
A collection of photographs taken by Richard Shirk from 1970-1985 is held by the University of California, Santa Cruz (collection number MS 418) https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8kw5dsx/