In December 2016 Alabama Media Group donated its massive collection of historical photographic negatives to the Alabama Department of Archives and History. The collection contains more than 3 million photographic negatives taken by newspaper photographers working for the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times, and Mobile’s Press-Register between the 1920s and the early 2000s. Some images from other publications, including the defunct Birmingham Post-Herald and predecessors, became part of the collection over time. The negatives are organized generally by photo assignment in chronological order and stored in paper sleeves typically used by photojournalists for film photography.
The images document almost every aspect of life in Alabama for a period spanning more than eight decades, providing an unparalleled visual record of our state in the 20th century. The collection is the largest gift of historical content received by the Archives since its founding in 1901.
How can I see the photos?
In a process that will last several years, the Archives will scan the negatives and display the images online. The first images will not be available until after staff conduct a preliminary survey of the collection to assess its scope and to evaluate any conservation needs. The first phase of work is expected to last through mid-2017. Once scanning of the negatives begins, new content will be uploaded regularly.
Selected images from the collection were scanned previously by Alabama Media Group and will remain online at AL.com. Check out earlier discoveries at AL.com Vintage.
Will I be able to search for photos of a particular person, place or event?
Two options for searching the collection will be available beginning in mid-2017.
- A database of existing labels on the film-negative envelopes will be searchable based on the information recorded by photographers when the images were taken. The database will reside on the Archives website.
- As each image is scanned, it will be tagged with keywords used by the Archives for all of its digital collections. The keywords will be searchable on this page.
Will I be able to request a photo that’s not online?
After the Archives completes its initial survey of the collection, reference requests for specific images not appearing online will be accepted. Instructions for submitting reference requests will be available on this page beginning in mid-2017. Research fees may apply.
Due to the special handling requirements of the collection and ongoing processing by Archives staff, public access to the original film negatives will not be available.
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