What Does a Photo Archivist Do?

G. Wiesen

A photo archivist is typically responsible for organizing a group of photographs in a way that is comprehensive and meaningful. This can be accomplished in a number of different ways, and can include chronological ordering and organization of photographs into categories based on subject or photographer. Once the organization is complete, then an archivist is often responsible for ensuring that the meaning and purpose of various images are captured through the assembly of records and notation for each image. A photo archivist can also work in a digital medium, using digital photographs and computer files to organize data in a meaningful and effective way.

Photo archivists can burn photos onto CDs to access them later.
Photo archivists can burn photos onto CDs to access them later.

The duties and responsibilities of a photo archivist can vary somewhat, depending on the particular needs of the employing organization. In general, however, the work of an archivist often begins with collecting and organizing a number of photographs that are part of a collection. This initial task can be incredibly complex if a group has thousands or even millions of photographs that need to be archived and made accessible.

A photo archivist may create digital backups of important photos that are organized and stored.
A photo archivist may create digital backups of important photos that are organized and stored.

Proper organization by a photo archivist often involves not only bringing the various photographs together but also determining the best way in which they can be ordered. This can depend on the way an organization wants the photos archived, though chronological order is quite common. Determining the proper chronology for photographs can be difficult, however, so additional methods may be used. Photographs may be organized based on the subjects of images or the person who took the photo, or sorted based on multiple categories with differing levels of importance.

Once images are organized properly, then a photo archivist usually establishes the meaning or purpose of them. The collected pictures, for example, can be accompanied by notations that indicate who took each photo and the subject of each one. Additional information can be provided to expand upon this, often giving details about the meaning of a photographed object or its purpose. This ensures that images within an archive remain meaningful in the future.

A photo archivist can also work with digital photographs, organizing and adding notations to them in a digital medium. This can be done purely on a computer, by an archivist adding notes to digital files, organizing images into various sub-folders, and storing the photos on a hard drive. Such archiving can also involve external media, however, including the use of additional storage devices or media discs. This ensures that a record of images and notations are preserved by a photo archivist both in a backup and as an original.

Photo archivists may store stock photos that can be used for projects later on.
Photo archivists may store stock photos that can be used for projects later on.

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