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Photography: researching its history, processes, and photographers: Researching Photographers

Finding information on early photographers

(SCROLL DOWN to find key biographical reference resources)

Finding information on early photographers involves working with a variety of sources, primary and secondary, available in a variety of different places.  David Haynes, in Photographers: A Sourcebook for Historical Research (listed below and featured at right) advises researchers that "you will save a lot of time and considerable work if you discuss your project with as many librarians as possible" (!) That said, the following tips and resources will also prove helpful in identifying and finding biographical information on photographers.


Directories and telephone books
A good beginning can be to comb through city or state directories, often held by state and major university libraries and in some cases available online.  City directories (called General Directory, Business Directory, Gazetteer, Railroad Guide, and other titles) were published from the mid-1800s to about 1900, when they were gradually replaced by local and regional telephone books.  In both cases, check the business listings as well as listings for individuals. Also useful are local and regional almanacs, mug books, and booster books, which can include advertisements, biographical sketches, and sometimes photographs.

To find these materials, search WorldCat for directories and phone books that have been cataloged, check the online catalogs of local libraries, and search the internet to find the websites for houses of local history and materials that have been digitized.  


Newspapers are a rich source of information, in which you can find articles about local photographers, photographs that may be credited, business listings and advertising for photographers and photographic studios, and much more.  Check libraries and houses of local history for microfilmed or digitized copies of early newspapers.  In our own library, check the following databases:
Early American Newspapers Digital 
Nineteenth Century Masterfile
ProQuest Historical Newspapers

Finally, try looking for online newspaper sites such as (but not limited to) the following:
Chronicling America (Library of Congress)
Free Newspaper Archives in the U.S. (offers a free trial but then requires a subscription) (offers a free trial but then requires a subscription)
Wikipedia's worldwide list of online newspaper archives(not all are free)


Photography journals
The following journals are important sources of information on photographers as well as photography.  Click the Photography Journals tab to see Clark/Williams library holdings for these and for other journals as well.

Daguerreian Journal and Humphrey's Journal of Photography
Photographic Art Journal
American Journal of Photography
Philadelphia Photographer


Archival sources
Photographers'  and photography studios' papers and correspondence may be archived in local libraries, historical societies, museums, federal repositories, and other institutions.  The following tools can help you find these materials.  In most cases, materials must be used on-site; one major exception is the Archive of American Art, which makes most of its materials available via Interlibrary Loan on microfilm.

ArchiveGrid  (Database for collections of manuscripts and documents held in repositories around the world)
Archive of American Art  (The largest collection of documents on the visual arts in the United States and a rich source on photographers and photographs)


Census materials
Although they are only published every ten years, U.S. census schedules are particularly useful for finding people associated with particular professions, and entries contain a great deal of information about each person, including name, age, race, sex, birthplace, residential address, education, and immigration status for the foreign born. 

Williams College Library is a repository for U.S. Government publications.  Consult with the reference librarians at Sawyer Library to learn how to access and use these resources. 

A reasonably good introduction to census data, with links to useful sites and further information, can be found on Wikipedia.

Finding information on modern and contemporary photographers

Modern photographers whose work is available in museums and galleries can be researched in the same way as other fine artists:  

  • searching WorldCat and individual library catalogs for books
  • searching standard art databases for articles (see the Journals tab)
  • searching archival databases for primary sources

More tricky is searching for contemporary photographers whose work is not yet well known or for modern photographers whose work is not mainstream or may be in non-art areas such as photojournalism or documentary photography, or in fields such as medicine, astronomy, travel, or advertising.

Suggestions for such cases include online websites that highlight contemporary photography, such as 

  • LensCulture, a global online magazine and platform celebrating current trends of contemporary photography in art, media, politics, commerce and popular culture worldwide.  Includes an archive of back issues.
  • 1000 Words Photography, the online blog of the magazine of the same name that focuses almost exclusively on cutting-edge contemporary photography, as well as running regular workshops with name photographers
  • Source, "the magazine for contemporary photography."  Includes an archive of back issues (payment is required).

Finding photographers in other fields can be challenging.  

  • Use WorldCat, or library catalogs of libraries with notable photography collections such as Eastman House or MoMA, to find landmark books in the field and mine the bibliographies of those books to find more books, articles, and names to research.  
  • Browse big collections, print and online - a good online example is the Library of Congress collection of prints and photographs.  
  • Click the "Images" tab above to browse many more collections.
  • In the Clark library, auction sales catalogs can be very good sources of information about photographs and photographers.  In the online catalog, click the option to search for auction catalogs only and search by title for "photography" or "photographs."  Ask for help as needed, as it can be a tricky area of research.

Biographical encyclopedias, directories, bibliographies, and guides

For further sources on women photographers and Non-Western photographers see the appropriate tabs, above.

Browne, Turner. Macmillan Biographical Encyclopedia of Photographic Artists & Innovators. New York: London: Macmillan; Collier Macmillan, 1983.

Provides basic biographical information on 2,000+ photographers and innovators in the field, including roughly 500 from the 19th and early 20th centuries; in addition, each entry lists publications, portfolios, collections, dealers/representatives, and address.  Photographers were chosen on the basis of “dedication” (photography had to be “a major passion”) and “visibility” (work had to be available in photographic books, journals, museum collections, or through grants and awards, though being well known was not a criterion).  Includes inventors, photographic curators, museum directors, gallery owners, photo-historians, and photography critics in addition to photographers.

Clark Reference  NE2600 A1 B76


Craig, John S.  Craig's Daguerreian Registry.  Torrington, CT:  John S. Craig, 1994.

"Being a unique compilation and cross-indexed reference to the Practitioners of the Art of the Daguerreotype in the United States from 1839 to 1860.  Included as well are members of the Allied Professions, including casemaking, apparatus and accessory manufacturing and distribution, coloring, die-engraving, &c."

Clark Stacks  NE2612 C73 (3 volumes)


Edwards, Gary. International Guide to Nineteenth-Century Photographers and Their Works: Based on Catalogues of Auction Houses and Dealers. Boston, Mass: G.K. Hall, 1988.

This unique work "constitutes a census of the [19th-century]  photographic material that has passed through the hands of booksellers, galleries, and auction houses out into the world" during the period of roughly 1970 - 2000, with a few auction catalogs from the 1950s and 1960s.   Organized by photographer, the Guide lists photographic auction catalogs from about 50 major auction houses of America and Britain and a few from Europe (Paris, Munich, Geneva).  An invaluable resource for tracing the sales of work by several hundred 19th-century photographers from around the world.

Clark Stacks  NE2609 E38


Hopkinson, Amanda, ed. Contemporary Photographers, 3rd edition.  Contemporary Arts Series. Detroit: St. James Press, 1995.

The choice of entrants "is intended to reflect the best and most prominent of contemporary photographers," working in many different areas of photography.  The third edition adds more than 140 new entries, necessitating the omission of other photographers listed in the previous edition; previous editions are therefore not superceded.  The third edition excludes entrants who died before January 1, 1975 and entrants who have not added significantly to their body of work since 1987. Entries consist of a brief biography, individual exhibitions and a selection of group exhibitions, galleries and museums owning work by the entrant, and a bibliography of books and articles by and about the entrant.  Living entrants were invited to contribute a statement on their work or on contemporary photography in general.  Each entry includes a signed critical essay.

Clark Reference  NE2600 A1 C65 1995


International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House. International Photography: George Eastman House Index Photographers, Collections, and Exhibitions. Edited by Andrew H. Eskind, Greg Drake, Kirsti Ringger, and Lynne Rumney. Enl. and expanded version of the Index to American photographic collections, 3rd enl. ed. New York: London: G.K. Hall; Prentice Hall International, 1998.

Essential reference work with collection and exhibition data on 78,000+ photographers from 615 U.S. and foreign collections.  "Photographers" volume features an alphabetical listing and indicates collections that hold work and major exhibitions that included work.   "Collections" volume gives addresses for collections and lists the photographers in each collection.  "Exhibitions" volume is arranged chronologically with location, dates, and list of photographers exhibited.

Clark Reference  N510 A1 1998


Kreisel, Martha. American Women Photographers: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography. Art Reference Collection, no. 18. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Indexes a substantial body of monographs, exhibition catalogs, journal articles, and dissertations on and by American women photographers.  Provides a listing of the artists, many of whom were unknown but others of whom were major influences on documentary photography, experimental photography, and feminist photography.

Clark Reference  ZNE2612 K74


Mautz, Carl.  Biographies of Western Photographers: A Reference Guide to Photographers Working in the 19th Century American West.  Nevada City, CA:  Carl Mautz Publishing, 1997.

Biographical dictionary is organized by "western state, territory, or province in North American above the Mexican border" where "western" seems to be defined as west of the Mississippi River except that Missouri and Wisconsin are included. Most entries are brief, including little more than birth and/or death dates, where the photographer was active, and and what kind of work s/he produced, though where information was available entries are considerably longer. Includes an index of photographers and a bibliography.

Clark Reference  NE2612 M39


Palmquist, Peter E., editor.  Photographers: A Sourcebook for Historical Research.  Brownsville, CA:  Carl Mautz Publishing, 1991.

Six essays focus on the theory and techniques of regional research, giving invaluable information on how to conduct research in the field (pre-Internet, which can be highly illuminating) and sharing personal research experiences.  Richard Rudisill'sDirectories of Photographers: An Annotated World Bibliography summarizes directories already in print or in progress at the time of publication.

Clark Stacks  NE2600 A1 P36 


———.  Pioneer Photographers from the Mississippi to the Continental Divide: A Biographical Dictionary, 1839-1865. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2005.
Clark Reference  NE2612 P345m
———. Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2000.
Clark Reference  NE2612 P345

Companion volumes provide extensively researched, lively, detailed biographical information on daguerreotypists, ambrotypists, and photographers; also on people whose trades or professions had links to photography such as gallery employees, photographic overpainters and printers, dealers and distributors of photographic prints, artists with links to photographic arts such as engravers and lithographers, and people involved with large-format pictorial entertainments such as cosmoramas, dioramas, stereopticons, and magic lanterns.  Especially useful are the extensive bibliographies, which include manuscript sources, census records, city/state directories and gazetteers, newspapers and periodicals, books, and articles and unpublished papers.  Each entry includes bibliographical references.


———. Shadowcatchers: A Directory of Women in California Photography before 1901. 1st ed. Arcata, Calif: P.E. Palmquist, 1990.

Includes, in addition to several essays on California women and photography during the 19th century, a directory of women in California photography before 1901 and a checklist of women in California photography by region.   See the introduction under "Sources" for valuable information about research resources and how to use them.  Criteria for inclusion are broad, including not only amateur and fine-art photographers but also gallery owners and employees, photo-supply clerks and managers, women working in the manufacture of photographic materials and the photoengraving trade, and authors and publishers connected with the photographic industry. 

Clark Stacks  NE2600 A1 P34


Voignier, J.-M. Répertoire Des Photographes de France Au Dix-Neuvième Siècle. Chevilly-Larue: Le Pont de Pierre, 1993.

Dictionary listing of 19th-century photographers in France.  Most entries consist of little more than name, location, and basic dates.  Geographical index lists photographers active in a given region.

Clark Reference NE2649 A1 V65


Willis, Deborah. An Illustrated Bio-Bibliography of Black Photographers, 1940-1988. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, vol. 760. New York: Garland, 1989.

Companion volume to Black Photographers, 1840-1940 (below) that mines "a plethora of scattered, uneven and disparate sources" in order to create a concise, selected guide to the lives and works of photographers active between 1940 and 1988.

Clark Reference  NE2612 A1 W55a


———. Black Photographers, 1840-1940: An Illustrated Bio-Bibliography. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, vol. 401. New York: Garland, 1985.

Features the work of 65 important African-American photographers, most of whom were born in the United States and all of whom were active during the first 100 years of photography. The photographs selected for the book include every aspect of rural and urban life in America and illustrate such subjects as transportation, social life, military, fraternal organizations, education, families, architecture, and landscapes, thus serving as a source for finding photographic images of black America.  Each entry includes photographer's name and studio name, dates, location, principle subjects, processes, collections, exhibitions, a select bibliograph, and illustrations.  See An Illustrated Bio-Bibliography of Black Photographers, 1940-1988 (above) for extended coverage.

Clark Reference  NE2612 A1 W55


Witkin, Lee D., and Barbara London.  The Photograph Collector’s Guide. Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1979.

Includes an essay on the art of collecting photographs by Lee Witkin, a collector's chronology of important developments and events in the history of photography, information on the care and restoration of photographs, a biographical dictionary of selected photographers, a listing of contemporary group exhibitions and catalogs, and an appendix for U.S. and international museums, galleries, auction houses, and exhibitions spaces that could be of historical interest.

Clark Stacks  NE2600 W58

Featured resource: Photographers: A Sourcebook for Historical Research

Palmquist, Peter E., editor.  Photographers : a sourcebook for historical research : featuring Richard Rudisill's Directories of photograpers, an annotated bibliography.  Brownsville, CA:  Carl Mautz Publishing, 2000.

Revised second edition. Essays focus on the theory and techniques of regional research, giving invaluable information on how to conduct research in the field (pre-Internet, which can be highly illuminating) and sharing personal research experiences.  Richard Rudisill's Directories of Photographers: An Annotated World Bibliography summarizes directories already in print or in progress at the time of publication.  

Clark Reference  ZNE2606 P56  

Margaret Bourke-White

Ralph Steiner. "Margaret Bourke-White on Roof in Cleveland," ca. 1929.  In: Margaret Bourke-White: The Photography of Design 1927-1936, by Stephen Bennett Phillips, p. 175.  NY: Rizzoli, 2003.

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe. "Self-portrait," 1985.  In: Mapplethorpe Portraits: Photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe 1975-87, by Robert Mapplethorpe, plate 13, p. 33.  London: National Portrait Gallery Publications, 1988.

Diane Arbus

Eva Rubinstein.  "Diane Arbus," 1971.  In: Diane Arbus:  A Biography, by Patricia Bosworth, unpaged.  NY: W.W. Norton, 2005.

Dorothea Lange

Ansel Adams.  "Dorothea Lange Sequence, Berkeley #5," 1965.  In: Dorothea Lange: American Photographs, curated by Therese Thau Heyman, p. 9.  San Francisco:  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1994.

William Christenberry

Lee Friedlander.  "Portrait of William Christenberry, D.C.,"  1994.  In: William Christenberry, figure 1, p. 8,  Madrid:  Fundacion Mapfre, 2013.

Ansel Adams

Arnold Newman.  "Outside My Office, Carmel Highlands," 1976.  In: Ansel Adams: An Autobiography, by Ansel Adams with Mary Street Alinder, p. 339.  Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1985.