ID: 60



Nora Mathys studied history, political science, and state law at the University of Berne. In 2011, she did her dissertation "Photo-Friendships - Visualizations of Closeness and Community in Private Photo Albums" in the field of cultural sciences at the University of Basel. She was also an associated member of the PhD research group "Friends, Patrons, Clients" at the University of Freiburg in Germany (Graduiertenkolleg 1288). From 2007 until 2009 she was a resident guest at the Laboratoire d'histoire viusuelle contemporaine at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences sociales in Paris. Beside her studies, she worked in several photo archives in Switzerland. Since 2009 she leads the project Ringier Photo Archive at the state archive of Aargau (Switzerland). She regularly gives lectures and courses on the history of photography at the Universities of Basel and Lucerne. Her researches and fields of interest focus on the mass character of photography in the 20th century, ranging from the private use to the economy of press photography.


Photo Press Archives. A New Dimension of the History of Photography

Brief summary:

Press photography is an important source for the visual history of the 20th century. The contribution focuses on its characteristics and its position in our visual memory. Referring to the Ringier Photo Archive, it explains the challenges and possibilities of photo press archives for a public archive.


The digital revolution changed the different processes in the field of press photography. The needs and demands of the news media have changed a lot. The costs, possibilities, and methods of taking pictures have changed as well with the digital revolution. Furthermore, the distribution channels of press photography and the process of copyright control took new directions. These developments endanger the cultural heritage of photo archives for several reasons. Analog photography lost its economic value, became useless for professional us, and is set to disposition. The photo press archives are therefore becoming a cultural and scientific asset. However, the publishing houses and the photo agencies often don't think about giving these archives to a public archive. This is mainly due to unresolved copyright issues. Consisting mainly of negatives and slides, these archives are difficult to conserve and are not very attractive for general exhibitions. But the main reason why photo press archives are in danger is their mass character. They usually consist of more than a million pictures. These dimensions are difficult to handle for most public institutions. There is a lack of financial, human, and infrastructural resources. Giving these press photo archives a new home is a big challenge.

This contribution shows the different challenges and possible ways to deal with them by referring to the project Ringier Photo Archive which contains over 7 million photos. Topics such as archival appraisal, cataloging, digitalization, and conservation are being discussed. This paper is an appeal to take care of this important part of our visual memory and to put it on the political agenda.

Scientific contribution:

Based on the experiences made during the project Ringier Photo Archive, the scientific contribution of this paper can be summarized in two main points: On the one hand, this case study brings up new aspects in regard to the terms and processes of the photo press production and economy. A close look on the terms of production showcases the research possibilities for human sciences in regard to photo press archives. On the other hand, this paper shows a way how an archival appraisal of the masses of press photographs can be done while using the Ringier Photo Archive as an example.


Visual Cultural Heritage, Press Photography, Photo Archiving