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Downtown OKC

View historic images of downtown Oklahoma City in the Hillerman Map Project

Photo Archives

The first photographic images were collected by the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1893, and today there are an estimated 9 million images in the photographic archives collections. Formats include glass plates, tintypes, slides, panoramas, black and white and color prints and negatives. The collection provides the best examples of Oklahoma's cultural, social, political, military and business history, along with many other aspects. Some of the larger collections held by the photo archives are the Barney Hillerman Collection, the Ray Jacoby Collection, and the Argo Collection.

To explore the photo archives online, visit the Archives section of the online catalog. For tips on searching the catalog for photos view the photo search instructions (PDF).

Search the Online Catalog

Journalism Foundation Awards Grant

The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation has recently awarded a $300,000 grant to the Friends of the Oklahoma History Center. The funds will be used to archive and digitize 1.4 million photographs from The Oklahoman.
Read the full article.

Orders & Fees

Once an order or photo request is made in email or online form, fees will be invoiced and due for the work and product produced. Orders may not be cancelled once the process has begun. It may take up to 3 weeks for an order to be filled and returned to you depending on how many orders are ahead of yours and how difficult your order is to complete. A RUSH order may be requested, which means your order goes to the front of the line, BUT, this will double all fees - including research and use fees. A RUSH order may be completed in 3 days or a week. For orders to be filled we must have your full mailing address and phone number.You will be invoiced and payment must be received before your order is filled.

If you do not have specific OHS photo accession numbers, a research fee (starting at $20 for a maximum two hour search for in-state residents) will apply. Use fees are due for photos that are to be reproduced or put on public exhibition. Be sure to state sizes when requesting prints; for digital orders, indicate JPG or TIFF.

For complete details and forms visit the photo orders & fees page.

Contact the Photo Archives

The most efficient way to contact the OHS Photo Archives  is via email. To inquire about photo orders email Terry Zinn, Photo Order Processing Manager, at tzinn@okhistory.org. For questions about donations, preservation and other miscellaneous information contact Rachel Mosman, Photo Archivist, at rmosman@okhistory.org.

Donations

Many of our photo collections come from generous donors who want to preserve and impart their legacy. If the subject matter of the donation is consistent with our collection policy we are pleased to accept it. Collections are accepted at the discretion of the photo archivist. Donations of original prints and negatives ensure against copyright problems and storage issues. Income from reproduction sales supports preservation efforts.

We do not accept photocopies or printouts on low-quality paper. Due to limited staff and equipment, we are unable to scan undonated photos or scrapbooks, nor can we promise a turnaround time for adding your donation to our catalog.  

At the discretion of the photo archivist we may accept born-digital images or scans from originals in digital formats. For information on born digital photographs please visit OCLC's essay Defining "Born Digital": www.oclc.org/research/activities/hiddencollections/borndigital.pdf.

Standards for digital images scanned from originals are different from those that are born-digital. See the table below for scanned image settings.

dpiSizeColorOther

When scanning images, adjust dpi based on size of image. The longest side of the image should equal 3000 pixels.
For example:

  • 8 x 10 or greater - 300dpi
  • 5 x 7 – 428.5 dpi
  • 4 x 5 – 600 dpi
  • 4 x 4 - 750 dpi
  • 2 x 2 - 1500 dpi
  • 35mm & Slides - 3000 dpi
Size should be set to 100% of originalAll Positives & Color Negatives: 24 bit Color

Black & White Negatives: 16-8 bit Grayscale

If the reverse side of a positive print contains information of value, it should be scanned at 200dpi, Grayscale. If the reverse contains another image, design, etc. of intrinsic value, it should be scanned with the standard settings.

Scanner glass should be cleaned with a lint free cloth between batches.

Preservation

We preserve photos and negatives by providing an appropriate storage environment for them and by caring for them using professional guidelines and standards. This includes, but is not limited to, the use of appropriate storage enclosures and observance of handling procedures. Preservation is important to maintaining and protecting our state's collective photographic legacy. As with any item, photographs are subject to deterioration and wear. Some things that can affect the quality of a photographic print or negative:

  • Temperature and humidity
  • The acidity of the enclosures
  • Insects and other pests
  • Improper handling (bending, fingerprints, impressions, tearing)
  • The inherent chemical composition of the item
  • Storage environment (fumes, wood, etc.)
  • Mold

Poor storage methods may contribute to the rapid deterioration of materials, so archivists often remove rubber bands, metals, plastics, boxes, folders, and other items that are harming materials, replacing them with archival-standard enclosures (such as acid-free folders) that will support preservation needs.

Contaminants that pose certain health risks to humans, like mold or chemicals, may be present in materials that arrive at archives. Archivists are trained to identify these problems and treat the materials so that they are safe to use.

Overall, the work of processing makes materials safe for researchers to use and helps protect and preserve those materials for long-term use at an archives.

Photo Care and Preservation
What can we do to ensure that print photographs and negatives retain their quality for years to come?

  1. Wear Cotton Gloves
    Every time a person handles a print or negative with his/her bare hands, a trace is left behind that alters the quality of the image. Even after we wash our hands, there are still natural oils and residue from soaps and sanitizers on our fingers. We don't always notice the damage created by direct handling right away, but the effects can develop over the years.  

  2. Storage Environment
    One reason the storage environment for a collection is important is that temperature and humidity are two interdependent factors that can affect the quality of photographs. Temperature and relative humidity levels greater than 75° F and 60% will accelerate the deterioration of photos and negatives, and promote mold growth.

  3. Enclosures
    Black & White Prints: Buffered envelopes
    Dye Transfer Prints: Unbuffered papers or sleeves
    Cellulose Acetate Negatives: Alkaline buffered paper envelopes or sleeves 

    When writing on an envelope, use a pencil and be sure that there is no photograph or negative inside. The pressure from the pencil may leave a permanent impression on the image.

FAQ

  1. Can I come look through the photos in the archive?
    Browsing the collections is not allowed for preservation and security reasons.

  2. If I am coming to place a photo order in person, do I need to make an appointment first?
    Yes, and there are a few things you should know before planning your visit.  It is important to schedule ahead of time so staff can prepare for your visit by conducting preliminary research.  The archive holds approximately 9 million images in several different formats, of which only about half are processed. Locating a specific item can often involve a time-consuming multi-step process involving transfer documentation, printouts, preliminary finding aids, and indexes in various formats. This cannot effectively be done on an ad hoc basis while researchers wait in the Reading Room.

  3. Can you tell me how much my photo is worth?
    The OHS photo archives does not do appraisals, nor do we recommend appraisers.

  4. What can you tell me about repairing and preserving my own photographs and negatives?
    The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works provides information on how to care for your photographs and negatives: www.conservation-us.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.ViewPage&PageID=633

  5. How can I determine when a photo was taken?
    There are some clues to determining the date of a photo. These include the photo process used to create the image, the dress worn by individuals in the image and examination of items in the photograph such as automobiles, studio props, etc. 
    For further information see:
    The Costume Detective: How to Date Old Photographs by the Costume www.fashion-era.com/Dating_Costume_History_Pictures/index.htm
    Dating Card Mounted Photographs www.vintagephoto.com/reference/dating.html
    Digital Sample Book www.digitalsamplebook.com/home.htm

  6. What goes on in the photo archives?
    Staff in the photo archives process photo orders, process and accession new collections and manage the general organization and operation of the photo archives office. We also conduct photo-related research for patrons. Upon request staff members present programs detailing how the OHS collects, preserves and shares photograph collections.  If you are interested in inviting a speaker to visit your group, email Rachel Mosman at rmosman@okhistory.org.

Useful Links

Print Resources

  • Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints by James M. Reilly. Published by Eastman Kodak Company, 2001. Rochester, NY.
  • Photographs: Archival Care and Management by Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler and Diane Vogt-O’Connor. Published by the Society of American Archivists, 2006. Chicago.
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs: How to Organize, Present, and Restore Your Precious Family Images by Maureen A. Taylor. Published by Betterway Books, 2001.Cincinnati, OH.