In a recent study published in The American Archivist, Laura McCann details the history of photo morgues, and their importance considering the newspaper industry’s shift from print to digital media. Ms. McCann is a conservation librarian in the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department at New York University (NYU) Libraries. In light of our own newly-opened photo morgue collection (detailed below), her article has been summarized here.
When the use of photographic images began to appear alongside news print, only larger newspapers could afford full-time photography departments. Thus, many small establishments turned to news agency photography departments to compete and meet the growing demand for photographic images.
While the negatives and their copyright were usually maintained by the parent agency, the smaller papers developed “photo morgues” to organize and manage photographic print assets obtained from the news agencies and other parties. A caption or tag line, along with copyright information and a date, would usually be recorded on the verso of a print or on an affixed section of paper.
Over the past few years, the CHC has collected many prints from various newspapers in the greater-Boston area. This collection, Cambridge Photo Morgue Collection, contains black-and-white prints taken by newspaper photographers to illustrate stories regarding the city of Cambridge. Images in this collection represent a wide breadth of topics including protests, political figures, buildings, and city projects, thus documenting the social change and architectural evolution of Cambridge in the 20th century.
In an effort to reach those interested in Cambridge history, we recently sent these images to undergo digitization by Digital Commonwealth. The entire collection can be viewed by clicking here. This process is ongoing, and we plan to add more digitized content in the coming months.
We hope the opening of this collection will bring interest to the images and inspire additional exploration. For further resources, check the Library of Congress list of Newspaper Photograph Morgues.
McCann, Laura. “The Whole Story: News Agency Photographs in Newspaper Photo Morgue Collections.” The American Archivist 80, no. 1 (2017): 163-188.