They Care for Precious Images in a 40-Degree Vault

Inside the Bettmann Archive
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 1, 2023 12:50 PM CDT
They Care for Millions of Photos in a 40-Degree Vault
A stock photo of someone handling photo negatives.   (Getty Images / Hangzhouphotolab)

As far as jobs go, Leslie Stauffer and Sarah Kubiak have remarkable ones. They're the sole archivists of the Bettmann Archive, a collection of about 11 million historical photographs that's managed by Getty Images but, more specifically, by the two women. Writing for BuzzFeed News, Kenneth Bachor and Ross Mantle give a history of how the archive came to be, with credit going to rare books curator Otto Bettmann, who fled Germany for the US in 1935 with two trunks of photos in tow. They have more on that, but the meat of the piece centers on their interview with Stauffer and Kubiak, who have been with the archive since beginning internships there as grad students in 2004.

As for where "there" is, that would be an underground facility in the Iron Mountain near Boyers, Pennsylvania, where the archive resides. The former limestone mines have been converted to vaults used by a number of private businesses and government agencies—and the Bettmann Archive is located the furthest underground. To get to work each day, Stauffer and Kubiak go through TSA-like security procedures before entering a window-less and water-free airlock-protected vault that is permanently kept at 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity. It's cold and dark, so much so that "in the winter, we don't see the sun until the weekend," says Stauffer. But the job is unbeatable, she says. "We provide the photographic evidence of historical facts," fulfilling research requests for projects ranging from documentaries, book publishers, and news outlets. (Read the full piece here.)

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