Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Charles E. Bracker Collection Acquired: 30,000 Digital Photographs of Orchids at Ball State University Libraries

The Ball State University Libraries are now the proud home of a collection of more than 30,000 digital photographs and nearly 2,000 prints of orchids. These outstandingly beautiful photographs are the work of Charles E. Bracker, retired professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue University. The collection of digital photographs is being made available to students, researchers, and orchid-enthusiasts around the world through the Ball State Digital Media Repository (DMR),, a project of the University Libraries.

Dr. Bracker’s wife Anri began their personal collection of orchids in the late 1980s after purchasing two plants on a trip to Hawaii. After his wife passed away in 2001, Dr. Bracker wanted to keep her collection alive and thriving. He installed a basement greenhouse in his home and began adding orchids to the collection. He combined his passion for orchids and photography to create more than 30,000 stunning photographs of orchids.

In 2008, Professor Bracker donated 1,000 orchids to Ball State University’s nationally renowned Wheeler Orchid Collection and Species Bank. Recently, he also decided to give his collection of orchid photographs to Ball State University.

According to Cheryl M. LeBlanc, Wheeler Collection curator, “The combination of the plants and the photographs brings Ball State University to the forefront as having the largest university-based orchid collection in the country.”

The collection of prints and digital images are housed in the University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections. More than 300 of the images are now in the Charles E. Bracker Orchid Photographs collection in the DMR,, and the remainder of the 30,000 images are being added to the collection.

The Bracker Orchid Photographs join a collection of rare orchid books held by Archives and Special Collections. One particularly interesting title is the four-volume set, Reichenbachia, a nineteenth century work containing magnificent color prints of orchids. The title comes from orchidologist Heinrich Gustave Reichenbach. Bound in leather with marbled end pages, these large books were published in two series with each volume dedicated to a queen or empress: Queen Victoria, the Empress of Germany and Queen of Persia, the Empress of Russia, and the Queen of Belgium.

Each book includes color lithography, notes on the orchid’s history and cultures, and structural drawings of each flower.

For more information, contact John B. Straw, Assistant Dean for Digital Initiatives and Special Collections,, 765-285-5078.

Orchid Photographs on Exhibit

A selection of 60 Charles E. Bracker Orchid Photographs are on exhibit outside of the Archives and Special Collections, Bracken Library BL-210, and in exhibit cases on first floor east through December 2009.

The exhibit illustrates the diversity of orchids captured in Dr. Bracker’s superb photography. In a 2006 article in Purdue Agriculture Connections Magazine, Bracker was quoted as saying, “When I take pictures, I take a lot of them.” He said he typically took about 20 exposures for each flower.

Viewers of the exhibit will see that, as a rule, the flowers were only photographed when they were in full bloom. Dr. Bracker’s orchid photographs have been on exhibit in Hawaii, Massachusetts, and various other places in the past.

For more information on the exhibit, contact Lajmar D. Anderson, Archives and Special Collections Supervisor,, 765-285-5078.

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