NYC’s municipal photo archives is on the web
New York City’s Department of Records is displaying more than 800,000 digitized items from the Municipal Archives at this site. The collection contains photographs, maps, motion pictures and audio recordings. The online catalog includes color photos of every city building in New York (taken in the mid-1980s), more than 1,300 rare depression-era photos of the Public Works Administration and images of gruesome mob murders. Municipal workers took many of the photos that are in the collection.
The entire Municipal Archives collection has more than 2.2 million images going back to the mid-1800s. The project to digitize and organize selected images took four years to complete and is one of several initiatives by the department to make city documents accessible to all.
“Our charter-mandated responsibility is to preserve and make available the historical records of the government of the city of New York — so our primary goal with the gallery is to expand access to the picture collections,” said Kenneth R. Cobb, the department’s assistant commissioner. He told Govpro that the department “hopes to sell reproductions and license images — at fees that mostly cover our costs.”
The holdings are arranged by collection, or users can search “All Collections” by keyword or other advanced search criteria. Visitors to the site can order prints or digital files, and license images or film clips for commercial use, as well as share them through social media. Some of the images in the online gallery may be subject to third-party rights such as copyright and/or rights of privacy/publicity.
Researchers, history buffs, filmmakers, genealogists, preservationists and writers may find the collection to be a useful resource. Homeowners seeking to restore historic residences in the city rely on the Municipal Archives’ collection of property images used for taxing purposes to see what vintage homes looked like in the 1940s or later.