Using Archival Photographs

Using Archival Photographs
Historical photographs are a powerful component of a museum’s collection. They literally capture a moment in time and provide a window to the past. It takes some imagination to place an artifact in context, since they are usually static in an exhibition. But a photograph speaks to anyone who looks at it.

Although it is important to preserve archival photographs for the future, sharing them with your visitors should be part of your museum’s plans too. With today’s technology, it is possible to share the photos in our collections like never before. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Exhibit them. Today you can scan a photograph and print it for an exhibition without worrying about displaying an original image. Digitization should be an ongoing project at any museum. After exposing the photo to the light of a scanner once, it can be safely stored away for decades without being handled.

2. Use them in programming. People love to see old photos. Create a lecture or lecture series based on your photo collection. First, choose a theme. Perhaps you want to tell the story of business and industry in your community. People love to learn about entertainment – did your community have a theater, amusement park, dance hall, or opera house? Select photos of historic homes to teach about architectural styles. If many of them have been torn down, include a segment on the importance of historic preservation. Use PowerPoint to create a fancy presentation that will wow your visitors!

3. Share them online. Choose a Historic Photo of the Week and post it on your museum’s website or Facebook page. Encourage your audience to reminisce about recent 20th century photographs. People will start to leave comments when they remember a certain event or building. You might even ask them what kinds of photos they would like to see.

4. Publish them. Books featuring historical photographs continue to be a popular seller in many museum shoppes. Compile a selection of your best photos and research them so you can write detailed captions. You can publish it yourself or pitch your idea to a company like Arcadia Publishing for their Images of America series.

You Should Also Read:
Photo Digitization Projects
Archival Supplies
Planning a Lecture Series

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This content was written by Kim Kenney. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Kim Kenney for details.