Formal, large-format studio photography of works of art in the Museum's collection began in the late nineteenth century. Since its formalization as a department in 1906, the Photograph Studio has been charged with creating photographic documentation of the Museum's collection, galleries, exhibitions, and buildings for archival purposes and for reproduction. Within its first year, the studio's printed images of works of art were displayed and sold at the Information Desk in the Great Hall and made their way into the Museum's earliest printed publications. These early activities served as precursors to the extensive editorial program and the tremendous array of merchandising activities taking place in the Museum today.
Rich in content, the Metropolitan's in-house photographic records include early twentieth-century Egyptian and Near Eastern archaeological expedition photography and miscellaneous images of a changing New York. Detailed images captured across decades of construction reveal the Museum's external buildings and internal galleries as they evolved into one of the city's architectural treasures, while images of historic special exhibitions and in-depth collection photography provide a detailed view of the connoisseurship of Museum scholars over the years.
The photographic materials employed by the studio since its founding stand as a reflection of the history of photographic technology. Film materials ranging from large, glass-plate negatives to autochromes, stereoscopic plates, cyanotypes, lantern slides, black-and-white flexible film negatives, and color films are a remarkable historic representation of the continuity with which the photographic industry improved the quality, dimensional stability, and relevance of its products over time. Each technological innovation paved the way for new and creative uses, and this continues to be true as digital techniques are added.
Today, photographers and specialists in the Photograph Studio work with the latest technology to create beautiful and indelible photographs that enrich and extend visitors' engagement with the Museum's collection and exhibitions. These images continue to make extraordinary works of art accessible to millions of people around the world through countless publications and online resources.