Digitized Haynes Photographs Provide World-Wide Access

Montana Historical Society
  • June 26 2023

The Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives staff are wrapping up their largest digitization project to date with the well-known photographs by F. Jay Haynes.

Haynes’ work is one of the foundational collections of the MTHS Photo Archives. Since the early 1980s, more than 6,000 original glass negatives (and associated reference prints) have been available to in-person researchers in Helena. 

“Haynes extensively photographed the development of the Northern Pacific Railroad and Yellowstone National Park from the late 1870s to the 1910s, including notable photography in Montana,” said Jeff Malcomson, MTHS photo archives manager. “The dream of widening the accessibility of these nationally significant photographs has long been a goal of the MTHS’s photo archivists. A grant from the Montana Legislature in 2021 through the Cultural and Aesthetic Project Grants Program helped transform this goal into a full-fledged digitization project.”

Haynes established himself in the photography business doing contract work for the Northern Pacific in the late 1870s as the railroad built across Dakota Territory. His work with the NP took him across the northern tier of the U.S. West through Montana. Haynes’ railroad photography is vital historical evidence of the effects of a major transcontinental railroad on several regions of the country, especially Montana.

However, Haynes is best known for his work in Yellowstone National Park, which he first visited in 1881. Haynes established a photo concession in the park and photographed its natural scenery and geothermal features. His photos were undoubtedly the most viewed visual representations of the young but growing tourist attraction.

For the past two years, the MTHS Photo Archives undertook a major digitization project to make Haynes’ photos more accessible to researchers around the world. Archival photographer Tom Ferris systematically captured the original glass plate negatives with digital imaging equipment to create high-resolution digital surrogates, an essential preservation strategy. Becca Kohl developed preexisting cataloging information into standardized and fully conceived descriptive information for each of the nearly 3,000 Haynes digitized photos. This often involved historical research into the people and events represented in the photos.

Finally, Malcomson provided quality control and final preparation of data and image files before uploading these to our partners at the Montana History Portal (MHP), formerly the Montana Memory Project (www.mtmemory.org).

“Today, about 3,000 Haynes photos are readily searchable and viewable through the online database.” Malcomson noted. “Users can browse the digital collection by entering ‘Haynes Foundation Photograph Collection’ in the main search box and limiting the format of the search results to ‘Image.’”

Digitizing Haynes photos will continue, although at a much slower pace.

MTHS staff thanks the Montana Legislature; without its help this work could not have been accomplished. The Cultural and Aesthetic grants are funded in part by coal severance taxes paid based on coal mined in Montana, which are deposited in Montana’s Cultural and Aesthetic Project trust fund.