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Image Guide

A guide to finding and using images in the museum collections and elsewhere.

Overview of PMA Images

PMA Imaging History

Photography has been used to document the museum and its activities since its founding in 1876. Below are general time periods with corresponding imaging methods:

  • 1875–1920: Glass magic lantern slides and glass-plate negatives. Some black-and-white gelatin silver prints.
  • 1920–1980: Predominantly black-and-white gelatin silver pints and film negatives.
  • 1980–2000: Introduction of color transparencies; color slides (i.e. 35mm reversal film) were widely used.
  • 2000–Present: Primarily digital photography.

Note the use of formats overlapped with one another, and that these time periods are only approximate.

Search by Subject

Key Questions by Image Type


  • What is the accession/loan number of the object?
  • Who is artist?
  • What is the title of the object?
  • Does it have an entry in our online collections portal?
  • Are you looking for a particular view of the object? A particular detail?
    • Do you know the file name for a particular image?


  • What was the name of the exhibition?
  • When was the exhibition?
  • What was the subject or theme of the exhibition?
  • What types of photos/pieces in the exhibition are you searching for?


  • What gallery was the installation in?
  • When was the installation?
  • Is there a particular piece that was in the exhibition for which you are searching?


  • When did they work at the museum?
  • Which department did they work in?
  • Did they attend any major events, such as exhibition openings?


  • When was the event (approximately)?
  • Was it surrounding a specific exhibition?
  • What type of event was it?

Architecture and Sites:

  • For what room(s) of what building(s) are you searching?
  • For what details of the rooms are you searching?
  • Is there a particular aspect of construction/design that you need to see?
  • Is there a particular time period you need to see?

Images in the Archives

The Archives holds thousands images in various photographic formats. These collections cover the breadth of the history of museum and its collections from its founding. Search Archives' Finding Aids and contact the Archives with the collection names and box numbers you wish to examine.

Archive Collection Highlights

Tips for Finding Images in the Archives

  • If you are trying to find specific images, knowing the exact date of the event is very helpful. Many of the collections are organized by date and not by topic.
  • To find images of specific people, start by searching the person's last name in ArchivesSpace. Keep a close eye on the collections that are being pulled up by your search. Do you recognize any of the image collections? If so, it is more likely that your hits will result in an image.
  • If nothing is coming up in ArchivesSpace, use the questions above to triangulate what collections in which you you might need to look.
    • During what time period did they work at the museum?
    • Which department did they work in?
    • Did they attend any major events, such as exhibition openings?
  • Keep in mind that many folders will not include the names of individuals pictured, so, if you can locate relevant material about an event, that is the best place to start.

PMA Images on the Web

These resources offer access to high-resolution imagery of objects from the Philadelphia Museum of Art's collections.