When determining arrangement, archivists should keep in mind the challenges of photographs, including the fragility of the material, preservation concerns for particular formats, the common absence of caption information, the common absence of original order, and the duplicative nature of the material as represented by negatives, positives, and copies of copies.
Like textual collections, collections comprised primarily of photographs should be arranged in a manner that takes into account original order, intellectual significance, security concerns, and physical attributes of the material.
Photographic negatives often prove invaluable in understanding the work of a photographer, especially in photographers’ archives where decisions about printing images can be discerned by comparing photographic prints to photographic negatives. Still, the reversed polarity of negatives makes them inherently difficult to describe. Negatives should be arranged with other photographic material, unless they require special storage (nitrate negatives are always separated; some other negatives are separated, depending on value or condition).
Item-level processing of negatives
When easily matched, file loose negatives with corresponding positive images. File negatives without corresponding positive images with other photographic material according to the arrangement scheme.
A collection consisting entirely or chiefly of photographs is often arranged into series by its creator or previous custodians. Collections with no discernable original order may be arranged into series in a manner that will best facilitate research.
Series-level arrangement within photographic collections may be based on formats (daguerreotypes, tintypes, cabinet cards, exhibition prints, albums), subjects (people, places, events), genres (portraits, landscapes, working prints), chronology, projects, photographers, etc. Physical arrangement by format facilitates appropriate storage, but it need not dictate intellectual arrangement.
Further arrangement at the file and item levels may be carried out if the volume or research value of the material justifies such an approach.
Photographs created by corporations, government, and professional photographers often have filing schemes that provide access to images, but there can be peculiarities in these schemes that an archivist should recognize in his/her arrangement of the photographs. Remain cognizant of any relationship that may exist between negatives, photographic prints, and any other derivatives.
Photograph collections amassed by collectors (see Randolph Linsly Simpson Collection, Peter Palmquist Collections) or created by the library (for example, see WA Photos File) can range in their preexisting arrangement from little or no organization to highly detailed filing schemes.
Arrangement of photographs within collections of other material should take into account original order, research value, volume, and format, among other concerns.
It is common to create a Photographs series in collections with any significant amount of material; a small number of photographs may be filed in Personal Papers, Other Papers, or in another appropriate series. A Photographs series may be arranged chronologically, by subject, by genre, or by format, as best serves the research use of the material. Some common subseries titles include Portraits, Snapshots, Family, Friends and Family, People, Individuals, Groups, Places, Travel, Albums, and Photographs of Artwork.
Photographs accompanying correspondence, writings, or other papers are usually kept with the item they accompany.