LIFE photo archive

December 3, 2008 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Back in the mists of creation, when I was growing up, LIFE magazine was a big deal in my family. My father used to get issues sent out from the US. We’d eagerly await the post along with our latest issue of Reader’s Digest – hey, told you I was boring! Regular ThinkingShift readers know of my photography obsession and LIFE always carried dramatic, emotive photos often snapped by famous photographers.

And now Google (yep, those dudes who prefer to cruise the streets snapping innocent citizens for StreetView) are doing something really worthwhile. Google is digitizing the LIFE photo archive. Can’t get much better for me! So far, 20% of the archive is available and most of the images have never been seen. Around two million photos stretching from the 1750s to today have been digitized with about 8 million more to go. Google’s blog details the project. You can browse images by decade and category. There are of course copyright implications but old photos would have passed into the public domain but since some of them have never been published, the copyright status might be uncertain. So hopefully I’m not about to break copyright by showing you some stunning photos!

31 year old composer Peter Mennan. Taken December 1955 by photographer Gordon Parks. This is a personal favourite of mine – the emphasis on the hands is simply brilliant.

The all-time best novelist, Laurence Durrell (and if you haven’t read him, do yourself a favour). Taken in France in 1960 by photographer Loomis Dean.

A fabulous photo from 1937 showing an oil tanker at a dock in Texas, US. Photographer Margaret Bourke-White (aka seriously famous and excellent photographer!).

Bill Robinson’s funeral, November 11 1949. Photographer is Cornell Capa, the younger brother of Robert Capa (another seriously famous and excellent photographer). The photo caused me to look up Bill Robinson – I have to confess ignorance. Apparently, this is a photo of the funeral of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the best-known tap dancer of his generation. I say “apparently” because his date of death appears to be November 25, 1949 and the photo is from November 11, 1949. So either I’m wrong or the LIFE archives have the wrong date for the photo. Anyway, fabulous photo: instead of snapping grieving faces, Capa goes for the sweeping panoramic view at an unusual angle.

You can access the Life Photo Archive hosted by Google here.


Entry filed under: Google, Photography, Useful resources. Tags: .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jeff Burak  |  December 3, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    In response toe comments about copyright; Images in the LIFE Photo Archive are available for personal, non-commercial use only. Photos taken by LIFE photographers and most other photos are protected by copyright and cannot be used for any other purpose without permission. All requests for the photos should be referred to LIFE’s agent, Getty Images.

    I’d be happy to traffic any inquiries.

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  December 3, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Hi Jeff

    Can you clarify whether photos can be used on a blog (which is a non-commercial blog)? The copyright permissions are a bit difficult to work your way through so advice welcome as I’m sure many many people will want to use such marvellous images! Do you have contact details for Getty Images??

  • 3. roentarre  |  December 27, 2008 at 5:50 am

    These images are outstanding in deed! Wow

    So much mood and class. Really cool.


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