Getty Images partners with HBCUs to digitize and archive photographs

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Four historically black colleges and universities embarked on a journey with Getty Images digitize tens of thousands of archival photographs. The global visual media company says the partnership will help preserve the culture and history of some of the most important images in the lives of Black Americans.

Central University of North Carolina at Durham, founded in 1910, participates in the first grant program. University archivist Andre Vann said the institution has plenty of photographs to share with the world.

The goal is to “highlight images that have somehow been hidden in plain sight,” Vann said.

NCCU has attempted to digitize thousands of its most important historic photographs, but thousands more need attention. It’s not just the image, he said, but the story behind the image that counters a monolithic view of African Americans.

“And what you see is a depth and a diversity of thoughts and actions that come out of these photographs,” Vann said. “You can’t make this up. You can’t stage this. It’s just a reality.”

In the NCCU library, there are boxes full of photographs, programs, and newspaper clippings. One box contains photos of throwback queens from across the decades. Choosing the 1960s photos was easy because of the hair, makeup, and long white evening gloves to go with the dresses.

The school also has footage of visits by President Gerald Ford and first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama. One of Vann’s favorite photo groups features a famous frequent visitor.

“For me, the one who speaks in my time and spoke to my generation is Reverend Jesse Jackson, who has been to this institution more times — as they say in the country — than the law allows,” Vann said. .

The new partnership with Getty Images aims to bring the photos into a much more public space, Vann added. NCCU will retain all copyrights to its photographs.

Scanned images will be placed, along with photos from other HBCUs, in a special Getty collection. Half of the income from the images will go to the school; some of the money will be directed to a scholarship fund for HBCUs.

Cassandra Illidge is Vice President of Partnerships at Getty Images and Executive Director of the New HBCU Grants Program. She visited NCCU in June to help oversee the archiving process. (Leoneda Inge)

Cassandra Illidge is vice president of partnerships at Getty Images and executive director of its new HBCU grant program. She visited NCCU and the other program campuses.

“The wealth, fashion sense, beauty, style and grace of men and women of color in the community date back to the 1900s,” Illidge said. “I mean, it’s amazing, and it’s a base that shows the strength in all of us.”

Getty partners with Epson America and Adnet Global to digitize and restore images. The partnership includes training students to help do the job.

Alejandro Ibrahim is a history major and soon-to-be senior at NCCU.

Alejandro Ibrahim sits in front of a laptop, which displays a vintage photo.
Alejandro Ibrahim is a history student at NCCU who is practicing scanning photos for the new collection. (Leoneda Inge)

“So with this photo, what we’re going to do is put it in the scanner. We’re also going to get this tag, which is the metadata,” Ibrahim said while demonstrating the process. “Metadata is the information behind the photo, so what’s going on behind the photo and how we interpret it.”

Prairie View A&M in Texas, Jackson State in Mississippi and Claflin University in South Carolina are also included in this initial $500,000 grant to set up an archiving process. This will ensure that some images that may have faded over time will be preserved.

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