Photo Research

Photography has been a part of the Smithsonian experience since its earliest days. The Smithsonian Institution Archives is the custodian of over three million images spanning the history of the Institution, its diverse collections, and its involvement in science and cultural heritage since the middle of the 19th century. We are privileged to make these remarkable resources available to the public.

Photograph Collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives

Finding specific images can be a daunting task in holdings of such breadth. To help you locate images, Finding Aids to the collections of the Archives holdings can be searched online and reference staff can provide guidance in your research. A small portion of individual collection items, such as photographs and documents, have been cataloged, digitized, and are available online through the Archives’ Collection Search. However, note that while the Archives is constantly adding more collections online, the majority of the Archives’ photographs have not been digitized.

Of special note, among the Archives’ holdings are several large collections of historic Smithsonian images that comprise a “photo morgue.” This “morgue” includes images taken by Smithsonian staff photographers documenting the history of the Institution, its activities, and its diverse collections. As the collection documents the Smithsonian and its multiple divisions, the rights and restrictions for these images may involve more than one Smithsonian unit.

The Archives is also the physical custodian for photographic material from other Smithsonian units. The Archives provides special service to these curatorial units by providing order fulfillment for the images that are in the Archives’ physical custody.

Because of the special nature of both the photo “morgue” collections and the photographic material for which the Archives is physical custodian, interested individuals are encouraged to contact the Archives’ photo archivists at photos@si.edu for assistance with Archives photos.

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Image Permissions and Fulfillment Services at the Smithsonian Institution Archives

The Archives encourages the use of its collection images according to its Rights & Reproduction policies. To request the use of an image, or for more information on how to obtain copies of images, proper citations, and terms of use, consult the Rights and Reproduction and Fees.

Researchers, publishers, or others who want to use some of the images that the Archives holds in its custody for other Smithsonian curatorial units must receive permission for that use from the curatorial unit that holds copyright. For assistance in determining which Smithsonian curatorial unit holds copyright for an image, contact photos@si.edu or 202-633-1933.

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Photograph Collections across the Smithsonian Institution

Researchers may also be interested in the several million photographs held in other collections across the Smithsonian’s many museums, art galleries, research centers, libraries, and archives. A good starting point for these is the Smithsonian Collections Search Center, where it is possible to search across several Smithsonian unit collections simultaneously. Rights and reproduction contacts for other Smithsonian units are listed here

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