Most of the objects in the collection live in one of five vaults, which collectively provide 4,400 shelves and 10,000 square feet of hanging space. Prints are kept safe in archival quality mats and folders inside slender, black solander boxes — rigid containers that protect prints from fluctuations in humidity and temperature, as well as from excessive light. Books and albums are stored in heavy metal cases with glass fronts. Some labels are written by hand, others are typed.
The main vault pairs the look of a library with the chilly, no-frills ambiance of a walk-in cooler. The room is kept at 68 degrees to protect the prints. The vault for color photographs is kept at 40 degrees to slow the inevitable changes with the dyes. Before color materials can be moved in or out, they must spend 24 hours in a transition room with the thermostat set to 55 to prevent condensation from forming on the surface of the work.
When collection manager Miriam Katz began working at the museum eight years ago, she says that only about 3% of the collection was online.
“Now, as fast as they catalog an image, we’re uploading it,” she says, adding that there are still more than 36,000 objects to go, a process that will likely take another five years.
Cataloging an image is a fascinating combination of scholarly research, hard science and imaginative speculation. Before an image is uploaded, the curatorial assistants have recorded as much information as possible about who took it, when, where and why. Historical background that adds meaning to the image is limned, as are identifying characteristics of the print and entries about who owned an image over the years, and where it may have been exhibited.
Direct to The Getty Photographs Collection Website