Journalism, we often hear, is a “first draft of history.” That makes old newspaper photos an excellent window into the past.
Recently, the Chicago History Museum added five million photos to its collection through the acquisition of Chicago Sun-Times photographs spanning 75 years.
“Anything you can imagine happening in Chicago was what these photographers were covering,” said John Russick, Chicago History Museum senior vice-president for interpretation and education. “They’re out there taking pictures of everyday Chicago life, big events, political events, disasters, joyous times. It’s the history, it’s the life of the city.”
While the museum continues the enormous task of processing and cataloging the photos, it has so far made 1,000 of them available on its website.
“The goal is to mine this collection and make sure that at the very least people know what we have and if they want to access it we’ll eventually be able to make it all available,” he said.
Russick says he has been struck by the quality of the images.
“You think of a newspaper photo archive as being potentially just a lot of photos of things – places and people and events – but these were craftsman. The photographers were remarkably skilled makers of art,” Russick said. “Some of the images are mind boggling; so beautifully crafted and well composed.”