Inventory, Inventory, Inventory (or…where is all that stuff??)

Posted on July 10, 2012 by

A blog post by Photo Archives Intern Matt Oliva.

The process for photograph inventory is simple; sit down in a small basement room in front of a computer and grab a large box of photos. Inside that box will be several archival folders. Inside those folders reside dozens, if not hundreds of photographs. Locate the object number on the back of the image; type it into the computer and go. Then repeat this process for several hours a day, five days a week. If this doesn’t sound like the best job ever to you too, you’re probably crazy.  The JMM’s photograph collection is vast and full of really interesting pictures, from Victorian cabinet cards to portraits of children:

1992.242.006.037b and 1992.242.005.031a

Even though the boxes and folders are labeled, the actually content of the images is usually a complete surprise. In one box you might find an incredible turn of the century studio portrait:


And in the next, snapshots of women showing off the best of 1980’s fashion.

2000.135.035 and 2000.135.049

While I’ve been perfectly happy working with pieces of paper for the last five weeks, for the past two days all of the archive interns have been thrown into the world of three dimensions through object inventory. Where working with the photograph collection is basically a desk job with a lot of minute tasks, object inventory is the opposite. Object inventory is carrying a very valuable looking cut glass jar down a maybe four foot wide aisle while attempting not to run into the two other interns walking towards you with objects and simultaneously avoid the large box that appeared in the middle of the floor while your back was turned. Object inventory isn’t pulling photographs out of a folder individually; it’s clearing an entire shelf of extremely breakable objects one at a time to get to a single tiny paperweight that somehow ended up at the very back. It’s cringing whenever you hear a clink or bang from anywhere in the room.


Working with objects is really a great change of pace from my entirely photograph-based existence. There’s something incredibly interesting about actual but unusual household objects; the Cyrillic typewriter, the ornate art deco trophies, or the entire shelf of porcelain spittoons. Until these past few days I had never really considered working with anything but photographs or documents, as photography was my first love and what brought me to the museum field. I’m really excited to see what other items I find in the next few weeks, and experience different parts of the museum world.

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