Photo Archivist Jobs

Photo archivists are responsible for the preservation, organization and archiving of photographs. They also prepare and arrange for their collections for the public to consume. Archivists work just about anywhere there is a large inventory photographs that need archiving and preservation.

This includes museums, research institutions, universities, libraries, history centers, public and private collections, and auction houses. They often collaborate with photo curators, museum directors and art buyers to procure and preserve photographs.

Artists, curators and museum directors also look to curators for insight and information on the best photographs to reference for publication and/or presentation. At smaller institutions, they may work as general archivists, responsible for all artistic media. However, the field of photo archiving has been growing for quite some time now, and many of these institutions employ general archivists and photo archivists.

What the Job Entails

Whether employed at a museum, a library or an auction house, etc, the job responsibilities are similar. Typical work activities include the following: protect materials, maintain archives and help people access archival material. At large institutions, you may be responsible for tens or hundreds of thousands of archival photographs/materials. At museums, the archivist usually reports to the curator. Interestingly, these two jobs are actually two sides of the same coin. Where the curator works to procure, display photographs, the archivist works to maintain and archive these sometimes-massive collections.

The photo archivist also helps to establish policies and priorities for the photo archives. At some point, you will work with the public. This means arranging and describing collections for exhibition, communicating with potential donors regarding acquisitions and, sometimes, publishing research findings. Depending on the size of the institution that employs you, you may also collaborate with a curator in managing and supervising assistants, staff, faculty and interns. Since there are also archival internships available at museums and libraries, you will be in charge of creating and maintaining the internship program.

Libraries, museums, etc. also maintain online galleries of archived collections. Documenting these images can present their own unique challenges, but this will often be part of your job as well.

Knowledge and Skills Required

  • Passion for Research: This job is heavily influenced by one’s ability to conduct research. To that end, it is necessary to have a passion for research.
  • Current Archival Methods and Trends: As an archivist, you will come across a large variety of photographs, some of which require different preservation methods. Not only will you deal with decades-old print photographs, you might also be responsible for maintaining and preserving daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, stereoscopic images. You will need to know the current methods of archiving and preserving these images.

Getting Started

The path to becoming a photography archivist is long, but it is eventually rewarding for those with patience.

Like photography curators, photography archivists are expected to be experts in the history, practice and preservation of photographic art works. This usually implies a terminal degree in art, history, photography or archival/library sciences. Those who the Society of American Archivists accredits study archival /library sciences graduates. Keep in mind though, that field experience matters in this field as much as accreditation, so it is possible to work your up through the ranks. See our museum archivist job profile page too.


According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual salary of archivists in May 2008 was $45,020. Those who work for the federal government earn much more. As of 2009, the median annual salary for federal archivists was $83,758.

Sign up for our newsletter!