LIFE photography reborn on Google

November 20th, 2008 by G√ľnter

Google is digitizing 10 Million photographs from the LIFE photo archive. 2 Million are already available, and the complete set will be accessible from Google Image Search as well as this dedicated site within 3 months.

Quoth the Official Google Blog:

Only a very small percentage of these images have ever been published. The rest have been sitting in dusty archives in the form of negatives, slides, glass plates, etchings, and prints. We’re digitizing them so that everyone can easily experience these fascinating moments in time.

I find this notable for a number of reasons:

1. I wonder about the nature of the partnership Google struck with LIFE. It sounds like Google did the digitizing, and it looks like LIFE got a “Purchase Image Merchandise” link with their logo above it. (And who wouldn’t want to have a framed print of Krushchev oogling Jackie Kennedy “as her mother-in-law Rose Kennedy looks on proudly”?)

2. I wonder whether we will come to look at this as Google throwing down the gauntlet to challenge the Flickr Commons, or whether this partnership was merely an opportunistic enterprise.

3. Along those lines, I wonder whether Google will aim to strike public/private partnerships to digitize photographic archives from the cultural heritage community. (Flickr so far has only provided a platform to present images, yet no financing to get collections digitized.)

4. I wonder how long it took to digitize the photographs “in the form of negatives, slides, glass plates, etchings, and prints,” and whether Google created a proprietary scanning station for these materials as they did for books. Mass digitization for photographs, anyone?

The Chicago Tribune has this short story on this development with a quote from LIFE president Andrew Blau:

“We don’t think we’re giving away the store,” Blau says. “We have 10 million images, some of the most important in world history, and they’re not being seen. To have the entire collection in a warehouse in Jersey City is not to the benefit of the photography.”

It looks like LIFE is also planning to make these images available in its new incarnation as a website at Life.com.

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