It used to be that “archives” signaled the end of the line, a place where books or manuscripts or photographs were put away, out of public view. But recently, many materials, especially photos, have gotten a new lease on life through archives that are largely digitized, making them more accessible. Some must be visited in person; others can be found online. But combined with treasure troves of prints, negatives, correspondence, and other memorabilia, archives at universities and newspapers don’t, happily, shut these materials away – they offer a way of exposing them to the world and keeping them alive.
International Center of Photography
In addition to its galleries and school, ICP in New York holds archives of major photographers, including Weegee, Robert Capa, Cornell Capa, and Roman Vishniac, among others. The Weegee Archives, for example, contain more than 20,000 prints, negatives, manuscript drafts, and more. Weegee (Arthur Fellig), of course, is known primarily for his crime-scenes photos, as well as those of New York nightlife, spanning a 40-year period that started in 1928. Given to ICP in 1993 by Wilma Wilcox, the photographer’s companion, the archive comprises the largest holding of Weegee’s work in the world.
Center for Creative Photography
The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona offers an archive and research center that showcases the work of Ansel Adams (not surprising, since he co-founded the archives in 1975). The Center offers a vast array of Adams’s work, including more than 2,500 prints, as well as correspondence, negatives, photographic equipment, and more. Through the sheer volume and breadth of materials, the archives present a fully rounded portrait of Adams – including personal files that document Adams’s affiliation with the Sierra Club and other organizations. The collection of his work remains a hallmark of the center, which also includes archives of other landmark 20th-century photographers such as Harry Callahan, Edward Weston, and Garry Winogrand. Many of the works can now be viewed online.
Go for the education, stay for the photographs. Among its many holdings, Yale University possesses the master prints of photographers Robert Adams and Lee Friedlander. Adams’s focus for more than four decades has been the landscape of the American West, documenting not just its eerie beauty, but also its fragility, caused in part by our often-uneasy relationship with the land. The Yale University Art Gallery and Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library also jointly hold the Lee Friedlander Archive; it possesses more than 2,000 master prints as well as negatives, letters and more. (On view through September 7, Jazz Lives: The Photographs of Lee Friedlander and Milt Hinton.) His well-known black-and-white street images, often documenting the reflection of everyday objects in shiny surfaces, were instrumental in helping photography become appreciated as an art form, and they are included here.