Open Up the Morgue! How Press Photo Archives are Enabling a New History of Photojournalism

Hans Rooseboom's picture

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July 2, 2021
Subject Fields: 
Archival Science, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Communication, Contemporary History, Historic Preservation

The Photo Morgue, the New York Times' legendary photo archive, is so well known that 'morgue' has become a synonym for 'press archive.' However, press photos in archives are far from dead. In this symposium we focus on the importance and use of press photo archives in resrarching the history of photojournalism.

The symposium will focus on the new field of research that has emerged over the past ten years thanks to the online publication of press photo archives. This development has turned the original negatives, colour slides and prints, which form the basis of every publication in the 20th century, into accessible research objects. The material aspects of press photographs provide a rich source on the production and dissemination of visual news in the 20th century.

For a long time, the history of press photography revolved around famous photographers, iconic photos and photos of iconic events. In short, the highlights. The digitization and preservation of extensive collections of analogue press photos, newspapers and magazines slowly make what in online marketing terms is called 'the long tail' visible. Aided by advances in online collaboration and machine learning, the great mass of everyday events, photographed by countless anonymous press photographers for a wide range of media, is quicly becoming available for research.

As the focus shifts from the highlights to the whole, we can address new and fundamental questions: how did photojournalism reach and influence the masses in the 20th century? How does this relate to photojournalism today?

More information can be found and tickets can be bought at the Rijksmuseum website,

Contact Info: 

Hans Rooseboom, Curator of Photography, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam