Apr 12, 2005

Frozen in Time (Scanning the Past)

Source: PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
Reported by Terence Smith
Original air date: June 10th, 2004
Video available in Windows Media format.
Transcript Page

“With its imposing name and military-tight security, you might think that the Iron Mountain National Underground Storage Facility is one of those forbidding places where presidents and generals huddled during the Cold War.

But these days there is a much different sort of planning going on.

Here, in an old limestone mine some 200 feet beneath the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania, is the Corbis/Bettmann Film Preservation Facility. The goal here is not to destroy but to preserve, not to end time, but to stop it altogether.

What is being preserved is the famed Bettmann Archive, some 11 million-plus images that represent the visual history of the 20th century, the century of photography. Pictures of everyone and everything are stored in this vast repository: Presidents and kings. Sultans and queens. Starlets and stargazers. From the ridiculous to the hallowed. Victory and calamity.

All these moments live on in Otto Bettmann’s archive. Bettmann, who began his career as a curator of rare books, fled Nazi Germany in 1935 with steamer trunks brimming with photos, drawings, and engravings. And until his death in 1998, his namesake archive continued to amass images of every type.

He virtually invented an industry himself, creating one of the most important and widely used visual libraries in the world. The archive was stored in New York, where its clientele included publishers, researchers, and historians.”

Editor’s note: Below is just a tiny example of the type of historical images included in the Corbis/Bettmann Archives. While the original airing of this story was in June of last year, PSN thought it would be useful to direct readers to this story who may have missed it. Many of the more famous images have already been scanned are made available through Corbis. However, only a tiny fraction of the 11 milion images in the archive have been scanned. At a rate of 20-30 minutes of scan and Photoshop processing per image, the progect will take man hours and many years to complete. In the meantime, the long terms storage vaults have had their temperature reduced to -4 degrees Fahrenheit, effectively halting any further deterioration to the photographic collection. The Iron Moutanis mine is over 1,000 acres but the storage facility has only developed 130 acres at this time, so there is a lot of room to grow.

Please see the additional links at the bottom of the page for more information.

Additional Links:
The Bettmann Archive
Corbis, the current owner of the archive
Wilhelm Imaging Research archival consultant for the archive.
A Century’s Photo History Destined for Life in a Mine By SARAH BOXER
Quotes, Notes & Anecdotes…of Dr. Bettmann from the Florida Atlantic University Libraries
Open the archives!
How the open source movement is changing historic archives
By Joyce Slaton
Archives, Photographers, Researchers and The Cave Editorial by Dirck Halstead

Good Old Days–They Were Terrible
by Otto L Bettmann
Available from Amazon

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