Michigan Alumni: George Robert Swain


  • Swain (far left) often accompanied U-M professor and archaeologist Francis Kelsey (black suit) to Europe and the Middle East, collecting so many images that The Detroit Free Press once described him as a "supreme camera fiend."

  • Eating lunch near Mount Athos (Greece) with Professor Lake, Greece (June 30, 1925). Courtesy of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

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A love of adventure, nature and photography brought George Swain to Ann Arbor in 1900

Before George Robert Swain settled in Ann Arbor in 1900, he traveled 2000 miles by bicycle through France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, and Germany, covering Caesar’s battlefields with his camera. That was just the beginning of his journey.

Swain’s love of adventure and family brought him to photography and Ann Arbor, and he became the university’s official staff photographer in 1913. He photographed parts of the world, artifacts and manuscripts few see, locally and abroad, in his role as university photographer. His on-campus photographs are rich in history and feeling; poetic, even. His other photographs cover archeological expeditions to the Near East and Europe, and travels in the western United States and Canada.  It wasn’t all work, however.

George Robert Swain was born on July 15, 1866 in Meredith, New Hampshire. He died at the age of eighty on April 8, 1947, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. An educator, adventurer, poet and a photographer, his career included thirty-four years of service to the University of Michigan as university photographer from 1913 until his death in 1947.

Where Would I Walk with Thee

In the autumn woods where the sunlight glints;

Through its myriad leaves of a thousand tints;

And the pathway leads ‘mongst the tree trunks grey;

By a hurrying brook that seems to say,

“Tis a beautiful world I’m rippling through;

And I love it well.

Don’t you?

Don’t you?

There ‘twould be joy for me,

Could I but walk with thee.”

—G. R. Swain

— Jan Schlain

Related content: View the June 24, 2013 University Record story about George R. Swain.

  • G.R. Swain photo, courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.