Digital Projects

Digitization of Endangered Library Negatives

By far the most valued component of the Photoarchive is its unique negative collection. To assemble the collection, the Library sponsored photographic expeditions throughout the United States and Europe to document works of art not previously photographed, gaining entry to collections few researchers had any hope of seeing. This collection comprises three major sections: negatives produced during the American photography campaigns, negatives commissioned from the Florentine photographer Mario Sansoni before and after World War II, and negatives of works of art for sale at London auctions purchased from the firm A. C. Cooper. These 57,000 large-format negatives are, for the most part, unique visual records of lesser-known and previously unpublished works of art. The negatives are fragile and display signs of deterioration; more than 5,000 have completely spoiled. Digitizing the negatives in order to preserve the images for future generations and make them broadly available to researchers was prioritized as an institutional goal and will be completed in 2013.

The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the Frick two successive grants (2009–2013) to digitize and provide electronic access to the 30,000 endangered negatives made during the American photography expeditions. Additional support was provided by the Henry Luce Foundation. This collection includes photographs and historical documentation taken by Library staff photographers on campaigns throughout the United States that recorded works of art in private homes, small public institutions, and art gallery exhibitions between 1922 and 1967. The project was designated as part of the Endowment's We the People initiative to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture.

The images from the digitized negatives are freely available through the Frick Digital Image Archive, a public website developed through the grant project. Visitors can access the images through keyword and field searching; display results in image groups or individually; zoom in on details; download large JPEG image files; and link to the extensive historical documentation in the Library's online catalog FRESCO. Since the website was launched in September 2011, the public has submitted more than 61,000 image requests.

The Mario Sansoni and A. C. Cooper negatives were digitized through generous funding from the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, The New York Times Company Foundation, and ARTstor (2003-2007). The 8,132 negatives commissioned from the Florentine photographer Mario Sansoni between 1925 and 1951 document paintings, frescoes, and sculpture in remote towns throughout Italy. In some cases, the Sansoni negatives are the only record of works of art that have since become unavailable to the public, severely damaged, or permanently lost. More than 9,000 of the negatives were purchased from the London photographic firm A. C. Cooper in 1935 and include images of paintings, drawings, and sculpture offered for sale at London art auctions in the 1920s. The digital images and historical documentation for the works of art were contributed to ARTstor, a nonprofit digital image library for teaching and research. ARTstor receives more than 100,000 requests for these images annually.

Italian Anonymous Digital Photoarchive

A pilot project was undertaken with the vendor Global Art Systems in 1998 to produce a fully searchable text and image database of the 14,500 paintings, frescoes, and drawings by anonymous Italian artists represented in the Photoarchive. The project was sponsored by Pernigotti S.p.A., Averna Group in Milan. More than 17,000 photographic reproductions were scanned and the digital files, now residing on the Frick image server, will be made available to researchers for study.