the years since photography's sesquicentennial anniversary (1839-1989),
the growth of the Internet and the application of digital technology to
the history of this one-time analog medium has given researchers an unprecedented
glimpse into our collective past. The reaction to the French public announcement
in August 1839 of L.J.M. Daguerre's photographic process, named in his
honor the daguerreotype, deeply affected — and still does — human consciousness.
With good reason. The daguerreotype was referred to as "the mirror of nature."
Much like software
and hardware changes today, rapid advances in photographic technology often
steamrolled the competition. The introduction of photography on the world
scene is often compared with the public's adoption of the Internet as a
new communications and artistic medium. In an essay on the impact of photography,
eerily prescient of late 20th century French postmodernists, the 19th century
French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote, "...I am convinced that the ill-applied
developments of photography, like all other purely material developments
of progress, have contributed much to the impoverishment of the French
artistic genius, which is already so scarce" ("Photography" , Charles
Baudelaire, in Photography: Essays & Images, edited by Beaumont
Newall, 1980; online French transcription, "Le public moderne et la photographie,"
numerous artists, photographers, historians, and critics point out, was
quite simply wrong, because his own fabled imagination could not transcend
the narrow definition of art he used to premise his argument. Artists and
photographers long ago, certainly by the early 1840s, came to peace with
the new reality. Photography and art continue to retain both discrete and
interdependent spheres of influence in human culture. Unlike the introduction
of photography, where commercial applications were eagerly embraced and
exploited, publicly funded academic institutions and governments were at
the forefront of the digital revolution when it came to the digitization
of historical photographs. Commercial operations, such as Corbis and the
Hulton/Archive, although sometimes more sophisticated in terms of search
strategies and e-commerce capabilities than their academic and government
counterparts, only followed after the public infrastructure and the public
appetite for digital imagery were in place. Today's historical photograph
researcher can quickly access millions of photographs right back to the
earliest-known images from France's Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
In the January
2002 issue of Searcher, Nicholas G. Tomaiuolo's excellent background
article, "When Image Is Everything" [http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/jan02/tomaiuolo.htm]
introduced readers to the ability of some popular search engines to search
and display various types of graphical file formats. He also identified
some specialized engines that focus on this kind of service. Typically,
images appear in the predominant JPEG (JPG) and GIF formats. Tomaiuolo's
background article did not cover two additional formats developed specifically
for the Web: Portable Network Graphics (PNG) and Scalable Vector Graphics
(SVG). [Details about the PNG format appear at http://www.w3.org/Graphics/PNG/
and on Greg Roelof's site at http://www.libpng.org/pub/png/.
Information on SVG appears at http://www.w3.org/Graphics/SVG/Overview.htm8
As Tomaiuolo points
out, general and specialty search engines will produce millions of matches
for all kinds of images. But what about specialty images, for example,
historical photographs? Tomaiuolo mentions two such photographs in his
introductory paragraphs: a Matthew Brady daguerreotype and the Pulitzer
Prize winning photograph by John Filo taken on May 4, 1970, at Kent State
University (Jerry M. Lewis and Thomas R. Hensley, "The May 4 Shootings
at Kent State University: The Search For Historical Accuracy."Ohio
Council for the Social Studies Review, vol. 34, no. 1, Summer 1998,
pp. 9-21. Web version (accessed February 21, 2002) [http://dept.kent.edu/sociology/lewis/LEWIHEN.htm].
While one can use image search engines to retrieve historical photographs,
the lack of precision caused by keyword searching and the limitations of
the general search engines to target historic photographs lead to wasted
time and effort. Other search strategies described here, including descriptions
of specific Web sites at the international and national levels, should
yield more immediate results for those researching historical photographs
and the history of the medium.
a historical photograph? Measured by impact, a photograph taken yesterday
— or on September 11, 2001 — can be considered historic. For the purpose
of this article, however, a historical photograph must be at least 20-25
years old. This span of time approaches the traditional generational boundary
of 30 years and restricts discussion to images beyond the conscious memory
of the youngest generation viewing the photograph.
individuals, businesses, and organizations that acquire and care for historical
photographs for personal, commercial, or research interests, historical
photographs are preserved by four different kinds of cultural institutions:
archives, art galleries, libraries, and museums. In some cases these institutions
combine functions; for example, a museum can house an archive or an archive
can contain a library. These institutions are frequently operated by public
bodies such as government agencies, but may also be run by private organizations,
such as historical societies.
Descriptive Systems for Historical
were among the first category of artifacts, records, or documents to be
digitized for presentation on the Internet. My own employer was among the
first public archives in Canada to embark upon a large-scale digitization
program for public access to its photograph collections. With the assistance
of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Victoria, the BC Archives
implemented an on-site image database system in April 1993; Gopher and
Web access followed in January 1995. [For details, see Web Site Reference:
"More About the BC Archives," http://www.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca/general/backgrnd.htm
(accessed February 21, 2002). BC Archives Web Site Statistics: http://www.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca/general/stats/statssum.htm.]
of cultural institutions apply different strategies to search and retrieve
digital facsimiles. Even where standards exist for describing or cataloging
photographs, searchers will not always find these digital facsimile directly
searchable using these standards. Many institutions rely upon unstructured
keyword searching for the least precise but broadest form of retrieval.
The good news,
however, is that photographs are generally described individually. Collection-level
descriptions, when in existence, often link to individual online photographs
that may include additional descriptive detail for each photograph within
the collection. All of the Web sites described here allow keyword or character-based
searching, usually by creator (for example, photographer), title, descriptive
summary, or subject field. In sites such as the common interface developed
for each of the Library of Congress' American Memory digital collections,
some kind of controlled vocabulary for name or subject access is always
Even though the
desirability of supporting date searching for historical photographs would
seem obvious, not all databases allow this. For example, even though the
photograph's date appears in the descriptive record, the National Archives
of Canada's ArchiviaNet search tool does not allow one to search for a
photograph by date of creation.
Because the four
classes of cultural institutions preserving historical photographs have
independently developed descriptive and retrieval systems, coordinated
work on cross-domain databases has assumed even greater importance. Assuming
the use of a higher-level metadata descriptive framework and a search protocol
such as Z39.50, differences in descriptive systems should not matter much,
especially for very simple searches, e.g., by photographer or personal
name, place name, or an event.
and museum networks in North America are well developed, but operate, for
the most part, independent of one another. Outside of the commercial search
engines, which may or may not index cultural institution databases, only
a few cross-cultural domain databases for historical photographs exist.
One of the best examples so far is PictureAustralia. In the U.S., development
of the SGML-Based Encoded Archival Description (EAD) [http://lcweb.loc.gov/ead/]
assisted in the creation of at least one major cross-domain database, the
Online Archive of California [http://sunsite2.berkeley.edu/oac/].
The emergence of
the Web as an important communications media galvanized the international
museum community into establishing new standards geared to the networked
world. This work, unlike most of the archival and library systems already
in place, is building on the common foundation of the Dublin Core standards.
The Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI)
and the Museum Computer Network [http://www.mcn.edu]
are the two most active participants on this front.
for art gallery collections have followed a pattern similar to the standards
in the archival community: Competing interests define what most benefits
each community of users. The Getty Standards Program, however, strongly
influenced the development of cataloging standards for artwork, particularly
in the area of subject vocabulary, name (artist and place) authorities.
The guidance even extends to how-to manuals, e.g., Introduction to Imaging:
Issues in Constructing an Image Database by Howard Besser and Jennifer
1972, the Art Libraries Society of North America [http://www.arlisna.org/]
appears to follow library standards. [See the ARLIS/NA Cataloging Section
Web site at http://www.stanford.edu/~kteel/arliscat.htm.]
The Visual Resources Association [http://www.vraweb.org/],
founded in 1982, created its own cataloging standard. The VRA Core Categories
work with other descriptive standards, including electronic metadata such
as the Dublin Core. Representatives from ARLIS/NA and the VRA met for the
first time at a joint conference in March 2002.
Art and photographic
history researchers should also know about ICONCLASS [http://www.iconclass.nl],
a visual classification and descriptive system developed during World War
II in the Netherlands by Henri van de Waal (1910-1972). Finally, as but
one example of the variety of online resources devoted to the description,
preservation, and access of historical photographs in their original, digital,
and other formats, the SEPIA (Safeguarding European Photographic Images
for Access) project of the European Commission on Preservation and Access
contains a searchable bibliography of close to 400 print and online works
on caring for photographic collections [http://www.knaw.nl/ecpa/sepia/].
Many, if not all,
photographic databases fall into what people call the Invisible Web, meaning
the databases may not be directly searchable through external search engines.
Nevertheless, online historical photographs are relatively easy to find,
because the cultural institutions entrusted with their preservation have
embraced the Internet and the Web for the presentation of historic data.
The following approaches
to searching should work for locating collections of historic photographs.
General keyword searching is not effective unless searching for a very
specific kind of image, for example, a stereograph or a cyanotype, or when
you have an event, place, or personal name, including the photographer,
which will not produce many matches. In the case of historical photographs,
specificity is a must.
Search for individual
institutions through basic keyword searches or topical directories in a
major search engine, such as Google, or a directory, such as Yahoo!. For
example, for historical photographs, the two most relevant, general Yahoo!
categories are "Arts > Visual Arts > Photography > History" (and its subcategories,
including Photographers) and "Arts > Visual Arts > Photography > Exhibits
>Historic." Besides looking for institutions likely to preserve historic
photos, you can also try searching for the digital collections themselves,
as well as associations dedicated to the history of photography and its
technology, such as the Daguerreian Society [http://www.daguerre.org],
the Photographic Historical Society of Canada [http://web.onramp.ca/phsc/],
or the Royal Photographic Society [http://www.rps.org].
Commercial and academic sites developed by and for those interested in
the history of photography also exist. City Gallery [http://www.city-gallery.com/]
by Steve Knoblock was one of the first Web sites to target the photo collector.
His site also supports the academic community by hosting the International
Directory of Photography Historians [http://www.city-gallery.com/resource/hpg/index.html].
and networks of archives, libraries, museums, and art galleries can also
constitute excellent choices for locating collections of historic photos.
Use a geographic perspective to narrow your choices and start from that
point. If you seek historic photographs of the Grand Canyon, try archives
in Arizona. Think about who would have had occasion to produce photographs
of people, landscapes, or events that interest you. Start with the photographer
or agency responsible for the original photograph or the archival institution
responsible for its preservation. Some of the earliest surviving photographs
of the Grand Canyon were taken during exploratory surveys by individuals
working under federal government sponsorship. Federal photographs in their
original form are, for the most part, preserved by the National Archives
and Records Administration (NARA) or the original agency. A large number
of online historic photographs are accessible through the NAIL (NARA Archival
Information Locator) database described below.
Test searches of
the search tools and individual Web sites described in this article were
conducted in mid-February 2002. The sites listed here illustrate the wide
variety of historical photographs available online and the techniques used
to search the Web sites or databases describing these images.
not exhaustive, this list describes some of the national and international
search tools used to locate online historical photograph collections. Many
digital library collections, such as the Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE,
include links to other digital collections. So far as could be determined,
there does not appear to be a single, comprehensive, current Web resource
for locating all publicly accessible, digitized, historical photograph
Archival Information Network (CAIN)
of many years of work by Canadian archivists, CAIN unites into a single
user interface several subnetworks of archival records databases operated
at the provincial/territorial or interprovincial/territorial levels. Search
fields in CAIN are based on the Canadian Rules for Archival Description.
Searchers unfamiliar with what the various searchable fields could contain
should probably use a basic keyword search. Subject headings, if assigned
to archival records by the subnetworks, are not incorporated into the CAIN
search interface. The records only describe photo collections, but include
a hyperlink to the host institution. CAIN also links directly to each subnetwork.
Heritage Information Network (CHIN), Artefacts Canada
portion of this national database focuses on museums, art galleries, and
heritage sites, where historical photographs may reside. Some of the museological
descriptions have online images linked to the record. You can retrieve
these online images by selecting the Image Contributors link in the contents
frame on the left side of the search interface. Many of these images will
download as JPEG files.
Similar to the
24HourMuseum in the U.K., this is a true virtual museum and guide to Canada's
museums, galleries, and heritage attractions. Unlike the 24HourMuseum,
the Canadian Virtual Museum includes a keyword-searchable Image Gallery
with thumbnail illustrations of museum and gallery artifacts, including
Discovering U.K. Collections
by Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives, and Libraries, this site
contains a database describing the U.K.'s museum collections. The database
does not as yet include the ability to limit searches by a medium, such
as photography, but the database will denote a collection strength in photography.
The database does not link to actual images.
Federation, Public Access Collections
Search or browse
for descriptions of publicly accessible digital collections. The database
holds at least 288 records describing such collections, records which display
25 at a time. Because the keyword search is phrase-based, multiple searches
are necessary to uncover all instances of digitized photographs.
Compiled by Gary
Price, co-author with Chris Sherman of The Invisible Web (Information
Today, 2001; http://invisible-web.net/],
this site contains a site-search interface and categories of Web sites
that offer searchable databases not crawled by the search engines. (When
we checked it, the site had not been updated for many months.) Although
photography is covered in the Images section of the Humanities category,
the list, even by the last update of this site, does not include many of
the highly visible public and private online historic photo collections
Archival Network (EAN)
This search tool
locates archives in Europe, Russia, and, through other links, elsewhere
in the world. Collections are not described, only basic contact information
is provided, along with a Web and e-mail address, should those exist, for
Union, Community Research & Development Information Service (CORDIS),
Information Society Technologies (IST), Digital Heritage and Cultural Content
DIGICULT is one
of the Key Action 3 domains of the IST program. It is as good a starting
point as any to the bewildering array of European Union initiatives in
the area of digitization of cultural artifacts and archival records. The
IST Projects or the Project Themes pages provide links to research and
other initiatives into digital libraries and the visualization of heritage
and cultural artifacts and documents.
Council of Museums, Virtual Library museums pages (VLmp)
Browse or search
for museums around the world by the kinds of collections preserved. Use
the keyword "photographs" to find institutions preserving photographs.
Selected archives, art galleries, and libraries are also represented in
Federation of Library Association and Institutions (IFLA), IFLA Electronic
An extensive guide
to the world of digital libraries in the form of annotated, subject-oriented
bibliographies, this site is most useful for locating information about
what kinds of digitization projects libraries are planning or have implemented.
The site includes
an A-Z list of museum Web sites around the world — helpful as a starting
point if you know the name of a specific museum. The eSpectra link contains
many articles about the application of digitization techniques to museum
and art gallery collections. Use the MCN Topical Guide link to The Community
Projects Section of eSpectra to locate digitization projects, some of which
involve historical photograph collections.
Grid for Learning (U.K.)
An enormous gateway
to educational and learning resources, including cultural institutions
such as museums, archives, and libraries, the NGL brings the wealth of
Internet/Web resources to U.K. teachers and students, as well as to the
rest of the world. Use the "What are you looking for?" link to locate "Reference
material" and cultural institutions.
Library of Canada, Inventory of Canadian Digital Initiatives
This site "provides
descriptions of Canadian information resources created for the Web, including
general digital collections, resources centered around a particular theme,
and reference sources and databases." The largest category for Type of
Material is Images (photographs, maps), with 130 records.
The National Virtual Museum (U.K.)
This gateway site
offers the ability to search for museums and galleries containing photograph
collections. Select the Advanced Search option, then Photography as the
Collection Type. Because photography collections may also be categorized
by subject matter and since you can only search one Collection Type at
a time, a basic keyword search for "photography" yields more results than
an advanced search limited to that collection type.
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO Archives Portal
Look in the Primary
Sources Online and Preservation and Conservation links for digitization
projects involving historical photographs.
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO Libraries Portal
Look in the Preservation
and Access Initiatives link for digital library projects.
of Arizona Library, Clearinghouse of Image Databases and the IMAGELIB listserv
Created in July
1994 by Stuart Glogoff at the University of Arizona, this site serves as
a clearinghouse "targeted at professionals working with imaging technology,
librarians, archivists, metadata specialists, database administrators and
others who are planning or developing databases containing digital objects."
The database is organized by institution name and by media type (e.g.,
photographs) and can be searched through a WAIS index.
of Chicago at Illinois and Association of Research Libraries, ARL Digital
Search or browse
by digitization project or institution. The Browse by Project option retrieves
427 records, displayed 25 records at a time. The database search form provides
a thesaurus for locating specific vocabulary within the "Project Objective,
Description or Keyword" field that pertains to the digitization of photographic
The Public Galleries
As with the search
tools list, this list is not exhaustive and only serves to highlight selected
collections of historical photographs at the national level in North
America and elsewhere in the world. Many worthy institutions had to be
excluded from this list. The main consideration was how significant a representation
of the historical photograph collection is available to the Web visitor.
Except as noted in the site descriptions, the arbitrary,
number of digitized photographs for inclusion in this list is 1,000. As
an example of how skewed this survey is, the British Columbia Archives
describes more than 110,000 photographs and artwork in its database, with
more than 65,000 of those descriptions linked to digitized photos. That
number is only 10,000 images shy of the total number available through
This gateway site
is very much like PictureAustralia. Both consist entirely of historic photograph
and graphic arts collections at several public institutions. Over 75,000
online images can be simultaneously searched through simple keyword searches
or by combining up to three different search fields, including creator,
format, and date. The site includes photo essays by historians on a variety
of topics, along with activity ideas for educators and several pre-set
searches called Trails. One of the most important and largest contributing
partners to Images Canada is the Glenbow Archives in Calgary, Alberta (50,000
Notman Photographic Archives
Based in Montreal,
the firm of William Notman and Sons was the first Canadian photographic
business to achieve international recognition in the 19th century. The
McCord Museum at McGill University acquired the company's entire negative
collection. To search the Notman Photographic Archives, whose work spans
Canada, select the Search > Notman Photographic Archives link. Nearly 24,000
images are available for online viewing, including photographs acquired
by the archives and not part of Notman's own output. Watermarked images
can be downloaded in the JPEG format.
Archives of Canada
Use the ArchiviaNet:
On-Line Research Tool to "Research by Type of Document" (e.g., Photographs).
The photographs database contains nearly 400,000 descriptions of photographs,
historic and current, and provides access to some 3,800 online images.
The basic search is by keyword, the detailed search includes additional
fields based on an internal database; no option exists to limit searches
by format, date, or photographer. The National Archives of Canada also
has a number of permanent, virtual exhibits that feature modern and historic
photographs and their creators.
Canada, Earth Sciences Information Centre, Photo Gallery
The ESIC holds
over a half-million photo negatives generated by the Geological Survey
of Canada. An ongoing digitization program is placing selected images on
the Web for public access. You can browse through thematic pages or search
a few different ways. Watermarked images download in the JPEG format.
Gallery of Canada
Operated by the
National Archives of Canada, this institution was established in January
2001 and is comparable to its counterparts in the U.K. and the U.S.. According
to its Web site, "A Virtual Portrait Gallery ... will give access to the
extensive historical holdings of art, photography, multimedia, and archival
records which the Gallery draws upon from the National Archives of Canada,
as well as other portrait galleries and networks of cultural institutions
in Canada and around the world." Having only appointed an interim director
in July 2001, the online gallery is not yet a reality, and the physical
facility will not open until 2004 at the earliest.
is an attempt to tie together the vast numbers of digitized collections
held by federal institutions into three grand themes which best express
the American vision: Foundations of Democracy, From Sea to Shining Sea,
and Innovation and Invention. The project is managed jointly by the Institute
of Museum and Library Services (Washington, DC), the American Association
of Museums (Washington, DC) and the Getty Information Institute (Los Angeles,
CA). Because the Search Engine link connects to an inactive server at the
Getty Information Institute, the site is navigable only through the thematic
pages or the site map page. The PictureAustralia gateway site acknowledges
this initiative as a source of inspiration.
Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Online Catalog
of photographs can be simultaneously or individually searched. Summaries
of each collection are available. Several of these collections do not form
part of the American Memory site. Some images will not display outside
the Library of Congress Internet domain. Some collections, such as the
Magazine database, contain only bibliographic records.
Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA Image Exchange (NIX)
Browse or search
several NASA databases for online images or digitized photographs which
document the human and robotic exploration of outer space, as well as aeronautical
experiments preceding space flight. According to the FAQ, "Currently, NIX
searches databases of over 450,000 NASA images and links to an additional
2,641,326 NASA images that reside on the Web (accessible via the ADDITIONAL
NASA IMAGERY link on the home page)." Many, if not all the images, are
Archives and Records Administration (U.S.)
Use the Research
Room link to get to the NARA Archival Information Locator (NAIL) database.
A convenient Digital Copies Search link in NAIL allows you to limit your
search to online photographs. Including "Aerial Photographs" and "Photographs
and Graphic Materials" with no additional search limitations, a search
for all units of NARA returned nearly 58,000 online photographs. Images
can be downloaded as GIF files. NARA also has a virtual Exhibit Hall which
includes some exhibits such as "Picturing the Century and Panoramic Photographs"
that highlight its holdings of historical photographs.
Library of Medicine, History of Medicine Division, Images from the History
of Medicine (IHM)
This site provides
access to "nearly 60,000 images in the prints and photograph collection
[of the division]. The collection includes portraits, pictures of institutions,
caricatures, genre scenes, and graphic art in a variety of media, illustrating
the social and historical aspects of medicine." Images are searched by
keyword or browsed by five different database fields. The watermarked images
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA Photo Library
Over 20,000 online
images (photographs and artwork) can be browsed by subject matter or searched.
The collections include photographs taken by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic
Survey, the oldest science agency in the U.S., as it surveyed the land
and oceans bordering the U.S. High-resolution JPEG images are downloadable.
Public Library, Digital Library Collection
Most of its image
collections have New York City as their subject matter. Some collections
use a different format than American Memory at the Library of Congress.
Images accessed here are downloadable. A forthcoming collection, Visual
Treasures, is slated for completion in 2004. According to the project's
summary, Visual Treasures "will create a publicly accessible, Web-based
and fully searchable image catalog documenting cultural and social history
Institution, The National Portrait Gallery
Use the Classification
Type of Photograph to locate bibliographic records (no online images) of
thousands of portraits of individuals from around the world preserved by
this branch museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Online exhibitions include
themes illustrated with historical photographs or centered around individual
photographers. The National Museum of American Art, also operated by the
Smithsonian, can be simultaneously searched with the National Portrait
Gallery via the Smithsonian's Online Photo Collections site [http://photo2.si.edu/].
Holocaust Memorial Museum, Photo Archives
gathered from institutions and individuals around the world, document anti-Jewish
activities, principally in Europe during the Hitler years (1930s-1945).
You can only search by keyword, though the Search the Collections page
states, "This system allows the user to search the catalogs by entering
a keyword, personal name, Library of Congress Subject Heading, or geographic
place name." The bibliographic record contains hyperlinks to subject matter,
so a successful search can help retrieve related photographs. A hyperlink
appears at the bottom of each record to "Show me more photographs like
this one." Images download in the JPEG format.
of California at Berkeley, California Heritage Collection
Search or browse
through more than 30,000 images, including photographs depicting Californian
and Western North American history and culture (includes digitized images
from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America) from the university's Bancroft
Library collections. This site is part of the California Digital Library's
Online Archive of California [http://sunsite2.berkeley.edu/oac/].
High-resolution and mid-resolution images download in JPEG format.
of California at Riverside, California Museum of Photography
Not unlike the
International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, the CMP
documents the history of photography from a California and Western U.S.
perspective. Featured here are online photographs by Ansel Adams, special
presentations from the Keystone-Mast Collection of stereograph (three-dimensional)
photographs, and virtual exhibits on topics such as women photographers
and hand-colored photographs of 19th century Japan. Illustrated databases
to parts of the huge camera collection are also available.
of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Department
of Photography & Film
A special Web
page, The World's First Photograph [http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/photography/wfp/wfpmain.html],
describes the history of and illustrates the oldest surviving photograph
taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in France in 1826 using
his own process. The center also hosts a permanent virtual exhibit, "Reflections
in A Looking Glass: A Lewis Carroll Centenary Exhibition" [http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/carroll/lc1.html].
The entire photography collection database can be searched or browsed in
various ways, including collections with digital images. Images are downloadable.
Here we list a
few of the most prominent, internationally renowned photographic archives
operated as commercial ventures or by private organizations and individuals,
including academic faculty. Some of these sites allow users to download
photographs. This section also includes descriptions of some Web sites
focused on the history of photography and its practitioners, though we
only include a small number of photo-journalism image databases, e.g. Associated
Press, Hulton/Archive, and TimePix.
Home to the image
archives of the Associated Press, this user-pay database operated by AccuWeather,
Inc. targets the U.S. educational and library communities. No free searching
is available, but potential customers can register for a 2-week free trial.
A Macromedia Flash tutorial provides a peek into the wealth of photographs
selected from an archives dating back to the 1840s, including other media
(AP news stories, illustrations from 1999 forward, and audio files back
to the 1920s).
Museum of Photography
The personal project
of William B. Becker, this museum exists only on the Internet. The museum
existed in a previous form beginning in 1996 as "Photography's Beginnings:
A Visual History." Rotating exhibits are based on Becker's own collection
of 5,000 images supplemented by digitized photographs from other institutions.
The Research Center includes links to other photographic history Web sites.
Part of the vast
Getty Images empire and linked to GettyOne.com, this site deserves special
mention because 230,000 online images from the 40-million-strong photo
collection are searchable or browsable upon free registration. The Hulton/Archive
collection was established when Getty Images merged the Hulton Getty operation
in London, England, with Archive Photos in New York City. Watermarked images
can be freely downloaded as JPEG files.
Museum of Photography and Film, George Eastman House, Photography Collections
inventor of the Kodak camera, resided in Rochester, New York. His home
includes this museum and archives with an extraordinary array of digitized
photographs, from a collection sampler (1839 to the present) to photo albums,
stereo views, and collections of images by the medium's most important
practitioners. All images are available as downloadable JPEG files for
private study. Because of its focus on photography, its international scope,
and its public nature, though a private organization, this site can be
considered the most important Web resource for online historical photographs.
J. Paul Getty
Museum (The Getty)
To view a large
assortment of online examples of various photographic technologies preserved
by the museum, select the Collections link, then Photographs under Collection
Types. There are more than 100 digitized daguerreotypes and nearly 600
photographic prints in various formats. To locate information about the
Getty's holdings of a particular photographer, select the Artists link
within the Collections page. Digital images download in the JPEG format.
The Getty Research Library also maintains a large database of records,
the Photo Study Collection Database, which describes photographs depicting
works of art and architecture. Some of these photographs are available
in digital form [see http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/psc/].
Select the Oliver
Wendell Holmes Stereoscopic Research Library link, then the Photographers
and Subjects (3-D Images and Information) link to view sample digitized
stereographs from some of the most celebrated historical stereo photographers,
organized by photographer name and subject matter. Images download as JPEG
Register for free
and access a large portfolio of online images from the Time-Life magazine
and the Mansell collections. Simple keyword searches or extensive advanced
search options are available, including by Time-Life publication or specific
photographers. The online help system was inactive and the total number
of online images unrevealed when we searched. A search for the term "world,"
however, returned 14, 976 images. Perhaps the most famous photographer
affiliated with this collection is Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971). Watermarked
images in the JPEG format can be downloaded. A related Web site is Time
Life Photo Sight [http://www.pathfinder.com/photo/index.html] which includes
photo essays and selections of historic photographs by 20th century photographers
who worked for Time or Life magazines.
of the American West: Past & Present
Developed by Susan
Ressler, Purdue University, and Jerrold Maddox, Penn State University,
this Web site is an Internet course and a Web resource that includes contributions
made by women photographers. While not image-rich, the site contains much
valuable historic data, especially in Peter E. Palmquist's "Women in Photography
Public and Private Galleries
Imaging Photo Gallery
Founded in 1852
in Florence, Italy, Fratelli Alinari is the oldest firm in continuous existence
connected with photography. The company claims to have over 3.5 million
images available. There are two sites, one commercial (100,000 images)
and one for students and educators (50,000 images); both require subscriptions.
The company also offers hand-printed photographs from its collection of
AMICO is an international
cooperative venture to support the educational and research use of art
and photographic collections from the collections of its members. The AMICO
Library Thumbnail Catalog is available for public searching by keyword
or advanced search options, which include creator or object type (e.g.,
Photographs). Over 25,000 online photographs are documented in the catalog.
Two photographic museums, the University of Arizona's Center for Creative
Photography and the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman
House, have portions of their holdings represented in the AMICO Library.
Membership entitles one to view and download for educational use images
up to 1024 x 768 pixels.
Foto Marburg (Germany)
This site features
over 2 million digitized photographs and artwork, along with corresponding
descriptions. The site interface is in German. Select the Gäste (Guest)
link in the center frame or the Bildindex (Picture Index) link in the content
frame to access the Bildarchiv zur Kunst und Architektur in Deutschland
(Picture Archive on Art and Architecture in Germany). Searches are by keyword
or drill-down lists accessible through four topic categories (Orte [Places,
1.4 million images], Künstler [Artists, 220,000 images], Dargestellte
Themen [Topics, 220,000 images], and Ansichten Porträts [Portraits,
220,000 images]). The Themen category is organized according to the ICONCLASS
Nationale de France (National Library of France), Gallica
the Library of Congress' American Memory site, Gallica has concentrated
on digitizing historic publications about France. Many of these works,
which include early technical manuals on photographic processes, are illustrated
with photographs or other types of imagery. Among the online exhibits at
Gallica (select the Dossiers link), the Voyages en France features
6,000 images (art, maps, and photographs). Through the Recherche link,
keyword and other kinds of searches are available.
Library, Special Collections, Hill and Adamson Collection
Hill and Robert Adamson were two of the most important practitioners in
the mid-1840s of the calotype photographic process invented by William
Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot is considered a co-inventor of photography along
with its French inventor L.J.M. Daguerre. This site is an online, illustrated
catalog with thumbnail images to the entire collection. Full-size images
can only be accessed within the university's network. The site includes
background information by photohistorian Dr. Larry J. Schaaf. A related
site operated by the university, which Dr. Schaaf is directing, is The
Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot Project [http://www.foxtalbot.arts.gla.ac.uk].
The Talbot Project site includes links to other Web sites devoted to the
early history of photography.
Similar to the
ImagesCanada and PictureAustralia gateways, this private/public sector
collaboration features images, including historical photographs, from institutions
such as the British Library, the National Museum of Photography, Film and
Television, the Royal Photographic Society, the National Motor Museum,
and the Museum of London. Images can be searched or browsed a variety of
ways, including by photographic terminology. Subject headings assigned
to each image description are hyperlinked. The mid-size watermarked images
download in the JPEG format.
University Library (Japan), Japanese Old Photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji
A public site
intended to highlight photographs taken in Japan between 1860-1899 or from
the end of the Edo period to the beginning of the Meiji era. Many of the
photographs are hand-colored. The English search interface includes a clickable
map along with suggested English keywords. The photographs can also be
searched by shelf location. According to the About page, "As of the end
of March 1999, items in the collection numbered 5,414, making it one of
the largest collections in Japan." The images download as JPEG files.
Library of Australia, PictureAustralia
Gateway site to
online image collections in Australia. The Advanced Search feature includes
an option to search by format (e.g., "stereo" with Truncate selected produces
313 stereograph images). A series of thematic "Trails" allows one to browse
the collections. A hyperlink to the image provider's site allows a user
to locate offline image collections and order copies.
Library of New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library, Timeframes
Search or browse
over 20,000 online images (photographs, artwork, and other media, including
print) and accompanying bibliographic records pertaining to New Zealand,
the South Pacific basin, and the British colonial settlers' roots. Browsing
uses a controlled subject vocabulary. The Advanced Search option includes
the ability to limit a search to the Photographic Archive. Images download
in the JPEG format or, upon registering, can be ordered online.
Museum of Photography, Film, and Television (U.K.)
This museum is
the British equivalent of the International Museum of Photography at George
Eastman House, Rochester, New York. Unlike the former's Web site, however,
large numbers of photographs are not available online. The site does feature
virtual exhibits on the history of photography in the U.K. and elsewhere.
Many downloadable Adobe Acrobat PDFs are available on the history of photography,
film, and television. Digitized photographs at the NMPF&T can be searched
via the HeritageImage Partnership site.
Portrait Gallery (U.K.)
According to information
accompanying each bibliographic record, "The online database contains information
on approximately 34,000 works, 11,500 of which are illustrated; the National
Portrait Gallery's collection includes over 1,000,000 works." The Advanced
Search option offers the ability to limit the search by "Medium type" (e.g.,
Photograph). A search retrieved 1,062 digitized photographic portraits,
including photographs of pioneer photographers such as David Octavius Hill
and Robert Adamson.
Libraries Group, Inc., RLG Cultural Materials
Full access is
available only by annual subscription, but you can arrange free trial access.
Some of the collections appear to be already available at their host institutions
at no cost. For example, in the "Tour" section of how one might use RLG
Cultural Materials, you would learn that a color image of Jorrocks, a famous
racehorse, was contributed by the National Library of Australia. This same
image, however, is available at no charge through PictureAustralia (though
the quality is not great). The digital collections listed in RLG Cultural
Materials include ones consisting entirely of historical photographs.
Cultural Resources Access Network (SCRAN)
Gateway and customizable
portal service to Scottish heritage and cultural resources that features
over 1 million text and multimedia (images, videos, audio) database records.
Public access is limited to thumbnail images, while full access to larger-size
images requires an annual subscription. The site can be searched or browsed
and includes virtual exhibitions. A search using the keyword "photograph"
returned nearly 50,000 images.
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO Photobank
to 1957 or 9 years after UNESCO's founding in 1946, the database contains
over 10,000 digitized photographs and slides relating to its activities.
UNESCO also maintains databases for video (Videobank) and artwork (Artbank).
Images download in the JPEG format.
& Albert Museum (U.K.)
152 digitized photographs are available, these are among the most important
representations of photographic art and technology from the earliest years
of photography. All images download as JPEG files.
Data Service (U.K.)
Part of the Arts
and Humanities Data Service (AHDS), VADS is based at the Surrey Institute
of Art and Design, University College. Online visual resources accessible
through the Search Collections link are intended for the use of higher-education
institutions in the U.K. Some, if not all the historical photograph images
(over 1,000), download in the JPEG format. One of the more interesting
products accessible through VADS is a self-contained, downloadable computer
tutorial (5.77MB) by Professor Douglas Tallack, Nottingham University,
on the documentary photography of Jacob Riis (1849-1914) in New York City.
In order to complete the set-up program, users must request the e-mail
transmission of a serial number from VADS.
are easily found using the image-search features of the major search engines.
For the greatest success in finding such photographs, use the name of a
photographer or a keyword, preferably an uncommon one associated with the
photograph, such as a place name, a personal name, or an event. You may
need to try your search as both an exact phrase and in different Boolean
combinations. If you are searching for photographs of a specific place,
try locating an archive or other institution in that locale likely to preserve
such images. If unsuccessful, expand your search outwards to the regional
and national levels. The history and evolution of photography as a technology
and medium of communication and art form are best represented in archives,
museums and hobbyist organizations devoted to photography. If you are uncertain
about the legality of using a historical photograph in digital or print
form, always ask, but, as Tomaiuolo pointed out, never assume that the
person claiming copyright actually is the copyright owner. Historical photographs
of a certain age are in the public domain and do not require anyone's permission
to use for any purpose. However, you should assume a historical photography
may be protected by copyright, since the responsibility for such use always
rests with you.
The views expressed
in this article are the personal opinions of the author and do not reflect
those of his employer.
Engine Field-Search Comparison Chart
Test searches conducted
on February 21, 2002, using the American Civil War photographer Alexander
Gardner as a quote-delimited phrase, except as noted, and Advanced Search
capabilities when available. The relevance of the number of matches was
not verified. Scour.com no longer searches for still images. BIG Search
Engine Index: Images Search is a directory of image search engines.
Images and Photos
returned one result using the quote-delimited phrase "Alexander Gardner"
and two results using the keywords Alexander Gardner.
with the page-must-contain-an-image option selected and using the exact
phrase option, several of the initial results are irrelevant.
a metasearch engine, claims to search Ditto, AltaVista Images, FAST (alltheweb),
Yahoo! images, and Excite. The low number of results compared with individual
searches of these engines was not investigated.
nine of the 10 results were displayed. IXQUICK searched AltaVista, Excite,
FAST (alltheweb) and Picsearch.
the Count: Total Number of Online Historical Photographs
This list excludes
sites described in the Search Tools section.
(U = unknown)
Library of Australia, PictureAustralia
Museum, Notman Photographic Archives
Archives of Canada
Gallery of Canada, Cybermuse
Resources Canada, Earth Sciences Information Centre
Gallery of Canada
Nationale de France, Gallica
Art Museum Image Consortium
Picture Imaging Photo Gallery
University Library, Japanese Old Photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period
|New Zealand: National
Library of New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library, Timeframes
University Library, Special Collections, Hill & Adamson Collection
Cultural Resources Access Network
Museum of Photography, Film & Television
& Albert Museum
|U.K.: Visual Arts
Museum of Photography
|U.S.: Fine Arts
Museums of San Francisco, Thinker ImageBase
Museum of Photography and Film
|U.S.: J. Paul
of Congress, American Memory
of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division
|U.S.: NASA Image
Archives and Records Administration
Library of Medicine, History of Medicine Division
|U.S.: New York
|U.S.: NOAA Photo
Libraries Group, RLG Cultural Materials
Institution, National Portrait Gallery
of California at Berkeley, California Heritage Collection
of California at Riverside, California Museum of Photography
of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
|U.S.: Women Artists
of the American West
2,000,000 digitized historical images (artwork and photographs) in searchable
databases available at the national, state/provincial, and local levels
through archives, museums and galleries, universities and colleges, as
well as commercial collections not surveyed here but described in Tomaiuolo's
article, the total number of online historic images reaches nearly 9 million.
artwork and photographs.
6 May include
number of images: 75,000.
not include the Photo Study Collection Database.
photographs and artwork.
based on keyword search for "world" and may include non-photographs.
Library of Congress, American
A national treasure
in itself, this is the core of the U.S.' National Digital Library Collection.
Because of its significance, this site deserves more detailed highlighting
of the wealth of historic photographs available. Many of these collections
contain background resource material about photographic processes or the
photographers responsible for the original images. American Memory hosts
all the sites listed below. Some of the originating institutions also host
variant sites with different content that link to the American Memory collection's
start page for the site.
The Library of
Congress basic search interface is by keyword. Remember, however, that
you can not retrieve all online historic photographs of a particular format.
For example, of the 12,000 stereoscopic views from the Robert Dennis Collection
titled "Small Town America," only six subcollections are retrievable by
the keyword "stereo" with a default match of all word variants; the total
number of stereoscopic images is far less than 12,000. Some of the collections
allow searches or browses for photographer.
Use the Collections
Finder page [http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/finder.html]
and the Photos and Prints link to view a list of all digitized photographic
and graphic arts collections, including multiformat collections.
Besides the American
Memory digitized collections of historic photographs, periodically check
the Exhibitions page at the Library of Congress. Many of these permanent,
online exhibitions include or are comprised entirely of historic photographs.
One of the most impressive examples highlights pre-World War I color photographs
of Russia, "The Empire That Was Russia: The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic
Record Recreated" [http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/empire/].
Here are some of
the most significant digitized photographic collections, many of which
stem from public-private sector partnerships:
the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI,
ca. 1935-1945 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library
of Congress; http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsowhome.html).
As of December 1998, over 160,000 black and white and 1,600 color photographs.
of the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington Libraries; http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award98/wauhtml/aipnhome.html).
As of April 2000, over 2,300 photographs.
Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1864
(Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/daghtml/daghome.html).
As of October 1998, more than 725 daguerreotypes, the first commercially
successful photographic process.
Around the World
in the 1890s: Photographs from the World's Transportation Commission, 1894-1896
(Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wtc/wtchome.html).
As of October 1998, almost 900 photographs by William Henry Jackson (in
some ways, the 19th century American equivalent of the late Ansel Adams).
Edward S. Curtis'
The North American Indian: Photographic Images (Northwestern University
of April 2001, this collection contained "all of the published photogravure
images including over 1,500 illustrations bound in the text volumes, along
with over 700 portfolio plates."
History of the
American West, 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver
Public Library (Denver Public Library; http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award97/codhtml/hawphome.html).
As of July 2000, over 30,000 photographs, chiefly of Colorado, but also
War Photographs (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress;
As of January 2000, just over 1,300 photographs in two collections.
Stereoscopic Views from the Robert Dennis Collection, 1850-1920
(New York Public Library; http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award97/nyplhtml/dennhome.html).
As of October 1999, "12,000 photographs of the Mid-Atlantic states New
York, New Jersey, and Connecticut from the 1850s to the 1910s [sic], from
the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views at the New York Public
Taking the Long
View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991 (Prints and Photographs
Division, Library of Congress; http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/pnhtml/pnhome.html).
As of October 1998, around 4,000 photographs.
America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920
(Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/detroit/dethome.html).
As of January 2001, "over 25,000 glass negatives and transparencies as
well as about 300 color photolithograph prints, mostly of the eastern United
States." Also included are "900 Mammoth Plate Photographs taken by William
Henry Jackson along several railroad lines in the U.S., [Canada] and Mexico
in the 1880s and 1890s."
and Historical Photographs
by Tomaiuolo about copyright and photographs is excellent advice. Copyright,
however, does expire and historical photographs do enter the public domain.
Judging from the stance of many public institutions, the general user may
not be aware that licensing restrictions imposed by these institutions
may not be enforceable under the Copyright Act of their respective jurisdictions.
For example, one test in a copyright case is economic harm to the creator.
Using a nonwatermarked digital facsimile of a century-old photograph for
which copyright has long expired and which was copied from the Library
of Congress' own collection would likely go unchallenged. Using a watermarked
photograph of the same vintage outside the scope of your license agreement
from the Corbis Web site [http://www.corbis.com/]
would likely face challenge by Corbis as an unauthorized use. Corbis, however,
might have difficulty proving economic harm and therefore copyright infringement
on a public domain image.
In Canada, where
there is only one Copyright Act under federal jurisdiction and where the
act has not been amended as many times as in the U.S., copyright issues
are not as complex. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office, similar
to the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress, notes in its online
guide to copyright that "you cannot hold a copyright for a work that is
in the public domain" [http://strategis.gc.ca/sc_mrksv/cipo/cp/copy_gd_protect-e.html#section02].
The example used is Shakespeare's Hamlet, but could equally be a
photograph no longer protected by copyright.
A legal challenge
to U.S. legislation, which extended copyright protection for existing works
for another 20 years (from 50 years to 70 years, the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright
Term Extension Act [CTEA]), took a new turn when TheWashington Post
reported on February 20, 2002, that the Supreme Court will review Congress'
power to extend copyright [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35750-2002Feb19.html].
The article notes that, according to those arguing against the law, "Once
a copyright has expired, a work is in the public domain and can be built
upon, which can extend innovation and creativity...."
North America interested in copyright issues surrounding photographs should
consult the U.S. Copyright Clearance Center [http://www.copyright.com/],
the U.S. Copyright Office (Library of Congress) [http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/],
the Canadian copyright cooperative CanCopy [http://www.cancopy.com/],
the Canadian Intellectual Property Office [http://www.cipo.gc.ca],
and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) [http://www.wipo.org/].