Going archival — treasure hunting in the Times’ “Lively Morgue”
Imagine this: 4 (maybe 5) million pictures hiding in 4,000 cabinet drawers, more or less maintained by one man, all in a basement with no windows. Such is the world (better word: wonderland) that exists underneath The New York Times lobby on 42nd Street.
NPR’s Claire O’Neill recently visited the Times’ morgue — as employees call it — and Jeff Roth, its last custodian. She recounts her visit to the underground, fluorescent world at the picture blog.
Though most of us associate a morgue with death, Roth describes this one as a “living, breathing” thing and celebrates the serendipity it fosters.
Case in point: I asked him to pull a random selection, and there we were, thumbing through disheveled prints of William Faulkner, taken by none other than the celebrated Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Roth, being the last of the full staff he once worked with, inevitably knows things about the Times’ vast photo collection that no one else does, but is remarkably cool about his position. As he told O’Niell,
It’s not rocket science.
But one day, inevitably, there’ll be no more experts left to follow down into the depths. Then what? Well, there’s the Tumblr — The Lively Morgue, which posts a picture everyday, sometimes skipping a few. Happy spelunking!