4 Ways Around a Lack of Photos

An artifact from eBay and a Bostonian Society photo created the opening spread for the CorporateHistory.net book for A. W. Hastings.

So you need to create a history presentation or timeline, but your organization is lacking in photos from certain time periods? It’s a common problem. Here are four solutions that work for CorporateHistory.net and its clients.

1. Try eBay and other vintage photo sources such as Historic Images. Our very first client Hastings, a window and door company, dates to the mid-1800s . . . actually the pre-photography era. A simple eBay search on the company name A. W. Hastings turned up an elegant old envelope with an 1889 postmark. Which leads to suggestion #2 ….

2. Find a related photo from historical societies or stock image agencies. We supplemented the Hastings envelope with a photo from the Bostonian Society, showing a typical row of small factories near Haymarket Square circa 1864. That’s where Hastings did business then. They weren’t in the picture, but it did include a door and window maker that didn’t survive—a gentle editorial reminder that Hastings has outlasted most of its competitors. History societies often don’t have enough staff to do the searching for you, but stock agencies do (find them via the DMLA search box at Visual Connections). For organizations that don’t post digital previews of their work, you may need to hire a photo researcher. Find them at the American Society of Photo Professionals. More about the CorporateHistory.net book for Hastings here.

3. Scour free online collections such as the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and Wikimedia Creative Commons. Literally millions of excellent public-domain, copyright-free photos can be found and downloaded in high-res from these sites, but you have to be diligent, creative, and patient in your search. Allow lots of time and you may turn up gold, as we did for our maritime insurance client the American Club. An early exec of theirs had been a Coast Guard officer. On the Coast Guard Academy website we found a digitized scrapbook, totally without annotation except names under pictures. Paging through it was slow-going, but on page 50 there he was. More about the CorporateHistory.net book for the American Club here.

4. Commission an illustration. We turned to an editorial cartoonist to picture a few scenes in our history of the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corporation. These were from the 1990s and early 2000s–meetings, road trips, and such–but no one had been around with a camera. They added a light touch to an otherwise serious book. More about the CorporateHistory.net book for PARC here.

Photo research can be one of the best parts of presenting a company history. Enjoy!