Only 3% of the Life Magazine archive has ever been seen, until now


News reported on Brand Republic today informed me of the move to make Life Magazine’s entire photo library available.

A link to the story is HERE, with a copy below in case the link fails.

My interest, in particular, concerns the statement from Bill Shapiro, the editor of that ‘Only 3% of the Life archive has ever been seen by the public.’

This news at first sounds exciting if, like me, you are a fan of the photography of Life magazine. Life was a publication created by Henry Luce in 1936, with a strong emphasis on photojournalism. It appeared as a weekly until 1972, as an intermittent “special” until 1978; a monthly from 1978 to 2000. Believe me, you’ve got more Life cover photos burried in your brain than you realise, as they are often repeated in other media – although Time magazine has taken over this peculiar cultural memory worm in the last couple of decades.

But then of course I started to think about how the best quality work has already been seen within the 3% previously published. So while there will have been some interesting additional shots taken just before or after those that previously featured momentous political and sporting events, or just pics of celebrities from several decades of coverage. The rest are of course rejects, which editors have declined to use and have just been filed away.

So I guess I could be cynical and think that 97% of unused material doesn’t equal a huge percentage of great ‘new’ content. But in fairness, the standards of photography have always been high in Life magazine and I’m sure there will be a proportion of great, previously unseen, images hidden amongst the rest. I just wonder how much extra revenue the library owner are anticipating from the previously unused content?

If they are sensible, they will let internet users start to play with the material, in order to generate a value from it which goes beyond that inherent in the individual images themselves. Some interesting search strings should be possible, as well as Flikr and Wiki application type functionality, allowing users to access and edit the work in creative ways. Then again, they may just list it online through Getty as a vanilla-type commodity; hoping people will pay to obtain unused prints? Oh dear, I am cynical this afternoon.

Life magazine to be relaunched as online photo archive

by Staff, Brand Republic 29-Sep-08, 12:30

NEW YORK – Magazine publisher Time Inc has joined forces with Getty Images to launch, a free all-access database to the comprehensive photography archives of both companies.

Jointly launched in early 2009, the website will allow access to millions of archived photographs from Life magazine, famous for its captivating images of US presidents and celebrities from the 40s, 50s and 60s.

Getty Images, will supply thousands of photographs from its news, entertainment, sports and travels archives, as well as 3,000 new images uploaded on a daily basis.

Bill Shapiro, editor of, said: “Only 3% of the Life archive has been seen by the public. This site will put everything on display. You’ll be able to look at the biggest events of yesterday and the stories making news today with just a couple of clicks.”

Andy Blau, president of Life magazine said the website launch is in response to the growing proliferation of online image searching and the popularity of image focused websites like Flickr.

However, Blau told the Washington Post: “First and foremost, this is not Flickr, but we will have users’ photographs. But they will be separated from the main site. And there will not be family vacation photos. That’s not what Life is about.” will be based on Getty Images’ search technology and will allow users to print photographs, share photos online and create collections of photos for a variety of special interests.

Visitors will be able to create their own Life branded custom-made coffee table books of personal favourites, or purchase albums made by other users.

Searching and viewing photographs on the site will be free.

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