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A Database of Photography’s First 100 Years from Over 50 European Archives

A giant cache of historical photography is now part of a searchable online database.

“An artist in his line,” (1890/1910) published by Underwood&Underwood (Public domain image)

Over 50 European institutions have made their historical photography collections publicly available online to form a massive database that showcases photography from the first 100 years of the medium, from studio portraits to stereographs to landscape photography and beyond. The new resource, Europeana Photography, is led by PHOTOCONSORTIUM, the International Consortium for Photographic Heritage, and represents the latest section of Europeana Collections, a digital library that has previously compiled and organized digital holdings dedicated to music, the arts, and fashion.

Edvard Munch’s studio in Oslo, photographed by Arne Gunnarsjaa (used under CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

The data dump is pretty overwhelming, as this new photography section boasts over two million historical images, drawing from museums and photographic archives and agencies across 43 countries. Contributors include both public and private archives, including Italy’s Fratelli Alinari — the world’s oldest photographic agency; Germany’s United Archives; Finland’s National Board of Antiquities; the United Kingdom’s TopFoto; and France’s Parisienne de Photographie. Although most of the shared images are under copyright, about one-fifth of them are openly licensed, making for a resource particularly useful to researchers.

Europeana Photography is fully searchable and provides tips on how to navigate its platform, but it also offers some educational features to help you discover new photographs and artists. Aside from blog posts that will explore various artists, movements, and more, the website will continuously showcase themed galleries and online exhibitions. Currently, it features a gallery on the botanical studies captured by German scientist and photographer Wilhelm Weimar, another on magic lantern slides, and two very charming ones offering insight into past lifestyles — enjoy myriad scenes of physical exercise or various teatime gatherings around the world. For its inaugural exhibition, Europeana Photography’s curators have organized Industrial Photography in the Machine Age, which describes and analyzes images of factories and factory workers, construction sites, and manufactured objects.

Europeana Collections now represents the world’s largest collection of Europe’s cultural heritage data, with over 3,000 libraries archives, and museums coming together on its platforms to make their digital collections globally available. It’s also keen on adding more organizations and has an open call for European cultural institutions to get in touch about joining its network as a data provider.

Wilhelm Weimar, “Pflanzen-Objekt” (Public domain image)
Julia Margaret Cameron, “Four young women holding flowers” (1868) (used under CC BY 4.0 license)
Eugène Atget, “Interior of a Photographer” (1910–1911) showing Atget’s apartment on 17 bis rue Campagne-Première (Public domain image)
Edmond Bénard, from a series of photographs of artists’s studios (1880) (Public domain image)
Seated portrait of a middle aged lady with long haired dog in her lap (Public domain image)
Fritzi Massary, Die Operettendiva Fritzi Massary (1914) (Public domain image)
G. Lékégian,
“Indigène du Caire” (Public domain image)
Japanese dancers in a studio photographed by an unknown artist (1880-1890) (Public domain image)
Heinrich Hamann, “Damen Pyramide” (1903) (Public domain image)
Agence de presse Meurisse photograph of a beach scene in Deauville (1921)
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