I started working at the AP Photo Library in the late 1980s, when photojournalists still shot film that had to be processed, printed and transmitted on a drum scanner from a local AP bureau. A lot has changed in the last 30 years, with the advent of digital cameras, storage, remote transmission and, of course, the internet. Since everything is now shot and stored electronically, the physical AP Photo Collection of negatives and prints is no longer growing, but is, in itself, an artifact frozen in time. The emphasis now is to maintain, curate and digitize the collection, which represents the history of the 20th Century. I’m happy to answer your questions about AP’s archive of images, then and now.

Proof: https://twitter.com/AP_Images/status/1069988514434027520

UPDATE: OK, I’m going to wrap up now. Thanks so much for joining me and asking so many great questions! Just a reminder that you can go to AP Images to explore some of AP’s photo archive: http://www.apimages.com/

Comments: 215 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

andromedaed173 karma

What was the one photo that stopped you in your tracks, above all others?

APnews338 karma

It was an incredible image of a female flood survivor cradling her baby in a shelter in Arkansas in 1937. It was a very unknown picture at the time and coming across it in the early 1990s made me realize what a treasure trove of images we had here waiting to be rediscovered. You can see the image here: http://www.apimages.com/metadata/Index/Associated-Press-Domestic-News-Tennessee-United-/8646bfce47e5da11af9f0014c2589dfb/1/0

breadventure104 karma

Do you have any advice for aspiring library professionals or things you wish you new when you first started your career?

APnews126 karma

There's always a need for people who want to preserve history, but you'll find that resources are bit more scarce these days than they were 30 years ago when my career started. As for advice, make sure you pursue a field that you're passionate about.

Chtorrr80 karma

What is your favorite photo in the collection?

APnews222 karma

That's a really hard question to answer. I like all these unknown photos so it makes it tough. Each librarian would give a completely different answer. It's a picture of a couple at a clam eating contest in Atlantic City in 1946. This image always brings a smile to my face and reminds me of simpler times. http://www.apimages.com/metadata/Index/Watchf-Associated-Press-Domestic-News-New-Jerse-/31d4258f03c445cb98a36e344ed423d4/1/0

CaptainPlanet8360 karma

Steve, what is the hardest part of your job in terms of taking care these photos (history)?

What is your personal take on the transition to digital?

APnews83 karma

Digitization is the hardest part of my job. It's an amazing way to make sure the image will last even if the negatives deteriorate. It's also difficult to keep track of a million scanned images that we have already digitized and their location in the archive.

deadman125443 karma

What photo made you surprisingly emotional?

RidetheSchlange40 karma

Are you a photographer/photojournalist?

What elements do you see common to "iconic" press photos?

APnews82 karma

No, I myself am not a photographer, other than the occasional picture here or there. I come from an art history and design background which has given me a good sense of aesthetics. As for iconic photos, I've always said "you know it when you see it." It hits me on many different levels and evokes emotions.

boss_shepherd37 karma


APnews83 karma

In pre-internet times, there was no way to track how widely an image was used or if at all. I'm always amazed at the number of stunning images we still have in file that somehow didn't make their way into our electronic archive. But we're working on that.

sunrising4227 karma

What a cool job! I have a couple questions ... first, how did you end up doing this for a living? And then, for the physical photos and negatives in the archives, what information is typically stored with them? Like photographer, subject info, date, location, etc.

APnews53 karma

I really only thought I'd take this job until I made enough money to take a trip overseas to Indonesia. Thirty years later, I'm still here. After working here for a while, I became intrigued with our collection and realized there were many possibilities and angles to work out.

Whereas today we have metadata embedded on a digital file, what I work with day-to-day usually is a negative in an envelope with just a typed caption or a print with a caption taped on the back. Because of AP standards throughout the years, that information is pretty robust even decades later.

tonyvila24 karma

Did you ever make it to Indonesia?

APnews46 karma

Unfortunately, no. I'm still trying to get there.

sleepyeyed27 karma

What was the most disturbing photo you've come across?

APnews64 karma

It was a photo of a decapitated body in Borneo or New Guinea in the early 2000s. It's not appropriate to post the link.

elynwen24 karma

I’m not sure if this is over, but in the Aftermath of WWII my grandfather was a lieutenant stationed in Britain. He commissioned the building of stained glass windows in a bombed church. Would you have the pictures of such as this? It would mean the world. If not, could you turn me in the right direction?

APnews36 karma

Register on the website at apimages.com and a licensing rep will be in touch.

quiet_repub21 karma

What one event in history is the most difficult for you to work with?

APnews46 karma

WWII is the most difficult as it's 75 shelves of content broken down by country. The sheer volume of it makes it a little unwieldy to work with.

quiet_repub17 karma

Thanks for the answer, Steve. Quick follow up... is WWII the most photographed event in history?

APnews39 karma

It is for The AP, at least as far as volume in the pre-digital era is concerned.

bohemeian19 karma

As a photographer, I organize all my photos by capture date and then add relevant tags to the metadata. For larger databases, it suspect this method breaks down. How does the AP Archive catalogue it's photos?

APnews27 karma

We have a pretty basic filing system as far as our analog content. The room is divided into subjects and personalities, and negatives are cross-referenced if there are multiple people or a photo touches on multiple subjects. The subjects' half of the collection is the more difficult to work with because there's multiple places where it could be. For the past 80 years since the library existed, people had different ideas on how to file images.

Digitally, there's no need to catalog or organize. Edited pictures with metadata are all available on the apimages.com database and searchable to customers.

UncrownedKing70314 karma

Have you seen the “ the secret life of Walter mitty” and is your work similar to his ?

APnews18 karma

Yes, I have seen it and could really relate. Back when we still shot film, negatives often had to be mailed from halfway around the world. Waiting for that particular negative to arrive sometimes induced a lot of anxiety when a major client wanted to use it for a 2-page spread. But we never had as much fun as Walter did.

printculture11 karma

Do you feel that news photos are qualitatively different in the digital age from what they were before?

APnews23 karma


While technology makes it easier for people to make a good frame, AP has always had world class photojournalists who have produced quality images from news events - whether digital or film.

tomcam10 karma

I watch lots of presentations by YouTubers that appeared to use uncleared photos, from the AP and many other sources. Am I correct in thinking they are virtually all violating intellectual property law by not crediting or paying the original sources?

APnews14 karma

While some YouTubers are licensing their pictures, you are correct in assuming that many do not. The AP defends its intellectual property vigorously when notified of a potential misuse and is able to pursue the offender.

LordElfa8 karma

Do you fear the library deteriorating or being lost in a disaster? Are there plans setup to avoid those issues?

APnews27 karma

"An act of God" is always a possibility, but we don't plan for such. For things we can control, all prints and negatives are stored in industrial fireproof cabinets, and the room is equipped with fire retardant chemical sprays which would immediately extinguish a fire. It is also humidity and temperature regulated for optimum archival purposes.

Linkar2346 karma

How much was photo editing a thing before digital era ? I know it was quite a lot, how could You tell something was edited and if it was how did you approach it ?

Thank You.

APnews10 karma

Years ago, we were looking for the one definitive frame from an event, whereas today, volume of images and speed to transmission is more of a priority for the many customers we serve.

Brock_Samsonite4 karma

My dream is to be an AP Sports Photographer. What are some sports photos and/or sports photographers that have stood out in your career?

APnews11 karma

AP photographers must be able to cover all types of news events. They can't specialize in "sports." A photographer may cover the wildfires in CA for a week and then be on a plane to shoot the Super Bowl the following week. Here are a few of my favorite sports photos.

This iconic photo of Muhammad Ali:


And the Tommie Smith and John Carlos image from the 1968 Olympics:


Lastly this photo of Y.A. Tittle:


bohemeian2 karma

What is your process or rules for figuring out which photo negatives get digitized first?

APnews11 karma

The first thing is to figure out if it relates to anything in the current news cycle. Milestone anniversaries of events and client requests for images beyond what's already on our digital platform are also prioritized. Our most valuable historic content has already been digitized through the years.