Managing a (historic) photo collection

Updated on 9 May 2008

Managing a photo collection.

I went on a three day course “managing photo collections (cultural heritage) “to learn how to structure, manage and share a photo collection. I will have to work with material that was collected in 21 years that currently lies in boxes, sits in albums and is stored in electronic folders on drives. All unsorted and untagged.

My first lesson was interesting and fun, also because it was an on-site lesson at | ICM, where I happen to meet one of my first photography teachers, Frido Troost. He’s an art historian and now an antiquarian and he told us about the principle of historic -chemical – photographic processes and taught us how to recognize the various old photo types. (In “my” collection non of the older types…).

  • The Daguerreotype. Source : The Getty. “The daguerreotype is a one-of-a-kind, highly detailed photographic image on a polished copper plate coated with silver. It was the first popular photographic medium and enjoyed great success when it was introduced in 1839. Although primarily a nineteenth-century medium involving a painstaking process, daguerreotypy is still practiced today by an active — and avid — group of devotees”. See the video : Early Photography : Making Daguerreotypes

FAQ daguerreotypes

  • The Albumen process and the Collodion process. Source : The Getty. “Invented in 1851, the wet collodion photographic process produced a glass negative and a beautifully detailed print. Preferred for the quality of the prints and the ease with which they could be reproduced, the new method thrived from the 1850s until about 1880”. See the video : Photography: The Wet Collodion Process

Collodion process by Sally Mann


Nader - selfportrait
Felix Nadar (1910) selfportrait


  • The Tintype

The New York Times, 20 April 2008 | You Bet Your Tintype, Buckaroo

“Making these kinds of pictures, you don’t need the mental skills that you have to have a Ph.D. for,” he said. “It’s more like learning to be a carpenter. It’s work and it’s satisfying. What you get is unique, not mass-produced. You can’t repeat the process. So it’s the antithesis of digital.”

Audio slideshow – tintype master (2006)

The Getty : Research on the conservation of photographs – Project video : the first photograph

The second lesson was about conservation (Mattie Boom, Rijksmuseum), copyright restrictions and permissions (Cecile van der Harten, Rijksmuseum). | Slideshow | Kunst op papier / art on paper.

The third lesson ( Martijn van der Kaaij) dealt with digital access, digitizing, meta data and databases, search of a collection and project management.

Obviously I am not handling a museum collection and there will be no need to spend enormous resources on the project. But it will be a project that takes time and money.

The first step for me is to make an inventory of the photos and negatives. The second step is to team up with ICT and to draft a proposal.

Recommended reading : The Getty : Introduction to Imaging

IPTC Photo Metadata White Paper 2007

Video in English, French and Dutch about digitising collections

The Getty : Image Bank

More links on my ‘resources page’.

From the BBC serie : Genius of photography. Part one, fixing the shadows : about the history of photography. Fascinating viewing camera obscura, daguerreotype, carte de visite and tintype etc.

Introduction to the Semantic Web