I spent yesterday underground at the Bettman Archive, the “picture mine” as Dirck Halstead calls it in an excellent article. The Bettman is one of the largest and most important collections of photographs, 11 million all told. They were moved from Manhattan to a former limestone mine in Pennsylvania in 2001 on the recommendation of Henry Willhelm, an authority on preserving photographs, not just because the site has iron gates and armed guards but more importantly because there they can be kept at sub-zero temperatures. Willhelm — who I got to talk with yesterday — believes that the photographs, which had been deteriorating badly, will now last for thousands of years. And it’s not just the photographs and negatives that were at risk: They are kept in paper sleeves that contains the metadata vital to finding and making sense of the images.
Bill Gates’ Corbis company owns the archive. Gates is personally responsible for the decision to pack the archive into 19 semi trucks and move it to safety.
Here are some snaps.
The card catalog.
Ledger from 1926 listing entries in a sub-collection
Further back in the archive
Photo of Mussolini holding the “Sword of Islam,” and a sleeve with the photo’s metadata.