To celebrate National Photography Month this May, the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) is answering 8 of our most frequently asked questions about photographs in the ADAH collections.
1. Are all the photos in the ADAH collections digitized?
Many photos have been digitized and made available through our Digital Collections portal. However, because the ADAH has millions of photographs in its collections, some dating from as early as 1840, the Digital Collections represent only a small portion of the ADAH’s physical holdings.
In addition to the photographs in our Digital Collections, you can find born-digital photographs from Governor Bob Riley’s administration in the ADAH Electronic Records Collection, hosted by Preservica.
2. How can I access photographs that are not digitized?
The best way to access the most photos is to visit the ADAH Research Room. Scheduling an appointment helps our Reference Archivists identify the collections that will be most useful to you and better ensures you’ll be able to access the photographs you are seeking. To schedule a visit to the ADAH Research Room, visit the department’s website under the Research tab:
Researchers can also consult the online finding aids within the ADAH catalog to locate photos in the physical collections prior to a visit to the research room.
3. Does the ADAH have photos of my ancestor(s)?
Looking for photos of your great-grandmother, great-grandfather, or another individual? Try searching for their name in the Digital Collections or in the Vertical File – Surname finding aid. If you don’t find anything there, plan a visit to the Research Room to search their name on Newspapers.com.
4. I am researching a specific place or event. Does the ADAH have any photos of it?
If you are searching for photos of a specific house, business, town, or event, you can use the same approach as for individuals. Search the Digital Collections and then reference the Vertical File – Counties finding aid. You can also browse by subject in the Alabama Photographs and Pictures Collection.
The John Engelhardt Scott Negative Collection and Horace Perry Negative Collection may be especially useful for those seeking photos from central Alabama in the 1940s through the 1970s. Scott’s and Perry’s photographs document mid-twentieth century life in Alabama, focusing on the counties of Montgomery, Elmore, and Autauga
The Christiane Robinson photograph and Video Collection includes photos taken in Alabama from 2015 through 2020 and highlights demonstrations and rallies. Learn more about Robinson’s work by reading the historical note for the collection’s catalog record.
5. I’m looking for a photo in an old newspaper. Do you have a copy?
The ADAH may have the photo you are looking for. Many of the ADAH’s newspapers are accessible free of cost in the Research Room via Newspapers.com, which allows for easy keyword searching. Newspapers that have not been digitized may be accessed through the ADAH’s microfilm collection. When browsing microfilm, it is recommended that researchers know the title of the paper they need and the approximate date of the event they are researching.
The Alabama Media Group Collection (AMG Collection) contains more than 3 million negatives taken by photographers for the Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, and Mobile’s Press-Register from the 1920s through the early 2000s. Because there is no comprehensive index to everything, ADAH staff is scanning and transcribing the negative sleeves to add to the digital collection, where they are keyword searchable. If you find any sleeves that are of interest, you can request to see the contents by submitting an AMG research request form.
In addition to the sleeves, ADAH staff is also scanning selected negatives from the AMG Collection. Newly digitized photos are uploaded each month, and they can be browsed by subject.
The Jim Peppler Southern Courier Photograph Collection includes over 13,000 photographs taken for the Southern Courier, a biweekly African American newspaper published in Montgomery from July 1965 through December 1968. Peppler, who served as the paper’s principal photographer and photo editor, documented a wide range of topics, including civil rights, politics, education, employment, music, social activities, and domestic life in central Alabama and around the South. This collection can also be browsed by subject. (For more information about the Southern Courier, see http://southerncourier.org.)
6. I can’t visit the ADAH Research Room in person. Can I make a remote reference request?
ADAH archivists are available to conduct research on your behalf for a small fee ($15 for Alabama residents and $25 for non-residents). Submit a research request via the ADAH website or by mail.
7. Can I purchase copies of photographs?
Researchers may purchase high-resolution digital files of photographs from the ADAH collections by submitting an order form. For more information about fees and permissions, consult this webpage.
8. Can I use an image from the ADAH in a publication or exhibition?
Before publishing or exhibiting material from the ADAH, complete the appropriate usage or permission form. See this webpage for links to the paperwork required for specific collections.
Note that the copyright status of most photos in the ADAH collections is unknown. For those items, the ADAH recommends consulting a “fair use checklist” (for example, from the American Library Association). The ADAH does hold copyright to the following collections, however:
- Jim Peppler Southern Courier Photograph Collection
- Alabama Media Group Collection
- WSFA Collection
- Christiane Robinson Photograph and Video Collection
If you have questions about the ADAH’s digital collections, photo orders, or permissions, please contact Digital Assets Coordinator, Meredith McDonough at Meredith.email@example.com.