I’ve made my living for the past 17 years in the pictures business. In 1996, I arrived in New York City and landed a job with a photo-licensing company doing historic photo research. My days were spent fulfilling client requests for photos, illustrations and artwork to be used in advertising, corporate marketing, book publishing, magazines and newspapers, documentaries, motion pictures and TV programming. Since then, I’ve gone on to work with several of the largest stock photo and film licensing companies in the world.
In my time, I’ve participated in the rapid changes in the business as it evolved from a world of photo prints kept in dusty file cabinets to the digital marketplace of images today. The proliferation of online search and digital photography databases has granted professionals and non-professionals alike enormous access to visuals illustrating the arc of world history from the dawn of time to the latest celebrity gossip.
With this has come the significant challenges of copyright management. Companies like those that have employed me license images for a fee ranging from a couple bucks to tens-of-thousands of dollars each, depending on the use and value of the image (often based on murky concepts of scarcity and quality). With these licensing fees, photographers, archives recieve payment and people like me are able to pay the rent and feed my kids.
With images easily available online there is a lot of misinformation on in what instances a photo which may be used without paying someone a fee. Bloggers and other online outlets (and even traditional print-based users) regularly use photos under misunderstood concepts like “fair use.” In short, unless someone is granting you permission to use their works you could very well be in some sort of copyright violation and subject to significant legal and financial penalties. This is a conversation we in the licensing business have countless times a day with new and old customers alike.
For a blogger like me, I try to take as many photos myself and stick to others that are either out of copyright or used in the context of reviewing a game, book or film. Looking for great historical reference images for use online or off still remains a challenge at times, but it keeps getting easier all the time.
This past week, the British Library announced the release of nearly one million images for free use via Flickr Commons. The BL becomes the latest insitutional archive to make available enormous selections of images. For bloggers, gamers and armchair historians, these resources are incredible and hours can be spent paging through them. Other existing collections of interest for wargamers include:
- Australian War Memorial Collection
- Imperial War Museum
- Library of Congress
- National Archives UK
- National Maritime Museum
- US National Archives
For now, below is just a taste of what’s new to be found in the British Library’s new online Flickr collection. The emphasis is on 18th-19th century history with tons of maps, engravings, diagrams and photographs. The Napoleonic Wars is documented in a ton of gorgeous color plates of uniformed soldiers, making them a perfect reference for your miniatures painting projects. The American Civil War is represented in scores of maps, portraits of various military and political leaders and lots of reference drawings of equipment and fortifications. The centuries of Britain’s colonialism is captured with a lot of material on Egypt, South Africa and the Middle East. Finally, there is a fair amount of naval and land imagery from the Spanish-American War.
Have a look for yourself and I’m sure you’ll find some obscure visual historic treasure of your own.
American Civil War
African Colonial Wars