Life’s photos online

Life - Allied soldier silhoutted by glare of an exploding German phosphorus bomb during World War I

You’ve probably read the news on APE or PDNPulse or elsewhere…Life magazine’s vast photography archive is making its way online with the help of Google. I posted about Life’s digital foray before, but that page remains the same. PDN’s behind-the-scenes article suggests that Life has more up it’s sleeve planned for the domain. Only 20 percent of the archive is online at the moment, and the remaining 8 million or so mostly-unpublished pictures will be made available in the coming months, according to Google’s blog.

The PDN article, too, delves into some the financial questions behind the site. Time Inc., who are the owners of the Life empire, and Getty hope the portal will drive traffic to the soon to be released Life magazine site and also offer print sales to the general public through print-on-demand service Hard to say how all of the contracts over the years will affect the final form of the collection, and one wonders whether photographers or their estates are receiving proceeds from the venture (if any proceeds are due). Commenters on’s thread about the endeavor have been wondering whether more business-savvy photographers in the 80s and 90s, who likely didn’t sign work for hire agreements, will be in the collection or not. Interestingly, PDN’s article suggests that the Life archive will not go after bloggers’ and other personal use of the photos.

I’ve also seen comments online wondering why the collection wasn’t incorporated into the vast Flickr Commons (home to the Library of Congress’ huge archive, among others’) project or at least use Flickr’s engine for community annotation and tagging. Presumably, a great deal of the Life archive remains under copyright and, as such, wouldn’t fit into the Flickr Commons model.

Wish I had more time to sift through the Life archive, but in the meantime, here’s W. Eugene Smith’s Country Doctor and Spanish Village essays, a strange photo of a bowling alley and archery range, covered wagons used in World War I, Salvador Dali, a running surfer, and a dual cigarette holder for lovers.

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