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Primary Sources: Photographs

Finding Photographs for your Research

There are so many excellent sources for finding photographs for your research, that sometimes it's hard to know where to start. This page provides some recommendations to get you started. 

  • Even enormous libraries and archives cannot digitize their entire photographic collections. What you find online is only a sampling. However, when you make an appointment to visit an archives or library, you can view additional images.
  • Visit Digital Collections on this guide for online collections that include photographs as well as other types of digitized primary sources.
  • The most famous and comprehensive public photo archives in the US is the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division. You can get started by searching the online catalog for a person, place or event. 
  • You can find images from and about California at the California State LibraryCalisphere, the Online Archive of California, and more.
  • Most major universities also highlight photographs from their collections that have been digitized. For example, 
  • This research guide from George Washington University Libraries includes highly recommended websites for finding photographs.

Lastly, you should always consider asking a Librarian for help!

Library of Congress Flicker Project

The Commons

The Commons includes photographs from libraries, museums, and archives throughout the world. The key mission of The Commons is to share hidden treasures from the world's public photography archives. 

Men of the community of Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940 (Library of Congress)
"Chippers." Women War Workers of the Marinship Corp, 1942 (National Archives)
Women in the Kitchen Preparing a Meal, 1940 (Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest)

Library of Congress: FSA / OWI Photographs

The Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection is among the most famous documentary photograph collections in the US. Created by a group of U.S. government photographers, the images show Americans in every part of the nation. In the early years, the project emphasized rural life and the negative impact of the Great Depression, farm mechanization, and the Dust Bowl. In later years, photographers turned their attention to the mobilization effort for World War II. The core of the collection consists of about 164,000 black-and-white photographs.

                                                   Toward Los Angeles (Dorothea Lange, 1937)

Calisphere: Black Panther Photographs

Calisphere includes primary sources from throughout California.  Click here to see photographs and other images of the Black Panther Movement.