LIFE Photo Archive Brings Historic Images Online

By Beacon Staff

The first ever LIFE magazine was published on Nov. 23, 1936. The photograph depicts five concrete monoliths, the architecture made stronger by the stark black shadows and white highlights, contrasted in proportion to the two people at the base of a column. The picture was made by Margaret Bourke-White and her subject was the Fort Peck Dam (here) on the Missouri River in Montana. She titled the photo, “New Deal, Montana: Fort Peck Dam,” (although the photo is actually of the spillway three miles east of the dam).

Now, almost 72 years to the day, Time Inc. has announced that access to more than 10 million images in LIFE’S Photo Archive will soon be available in a new hosted image service from Google (here). Decades of the some of the most important images by some of the most important photographers – such as Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, Gordon Parks, and W. Eugene Smith – will be searchable in a massive online database.

Historic photographs are addicting. They tap into our imagination. They constantly mesmerize me and my thoughts run wild as I try to put myself there, the moment the shutter opened, with what life must have been like. Or they remind me of where we have come from – how much we have changed.

“The LIFE Photo Archive featured on Google will be among the largest professional photography collection on the Web and one of the largest scanning projects ever undertaken,” according to a TimeWarner press release (here). Over 90 percent of the photographs have never been seen by the public.

Searching “Montana” reveals Carl Mydans’ images of flooding in 1952, Francis Miller’s photographs of miners at the Copper Kings Club or waiting outside the mines before work in 1950’s Butte as well as images of cattle drives and Mustangs on the plains in the 1960’s by Ralph Crane and Bill Eppridge.

The images can be searched on Google.com or directly from http://images.google.com/hosted/life (here).