More than 185,000 photographs are described in the following guide illustrated with selected images from the State Archives holdings.
The photographic collection of the California State Archives constitutes a rich and varied source of information about the history of California state government and of the state as a whole. While portions of the collection have been used extensively, most of it remains largely untapped. This is due in part to the fact that descriptive information about photographs, which most often are an integral part of much larger groups of documentary records, is not easily accessed. If one is not familiar with the structure and functions of state government, knowing where to start looking for photographs of railroads, for instance, can be somewhat overwhelming. Also lacking is much in the way of cataloging of collections by subject which would allow researchers to locate the specific images.
The purpose of this guide is to give users of the State Archives an overview of the photographic collection, to increase access to it, and above all, to encourage greater use of the collection. The guide gathers together in one place information about photographs which already exists, for the most part, in other State Archives finding aids. Some guide entries were created just for this purpose because original finding aid descriptions needed to be condensed or particular photographs were not previously described separately from related records. For example, photographs are part of files of cases heard by the Public Utilities Commission and derive most of their significance from the context in which they are found. But the photo researcher interested in locating images of ferry boats may not be interested in the PUC case concerning ferry rates. Other guide entries were upgraded and standardized to conform with the guide's format.
Although the guide is not comprehensive, it does include the largest and most significant photographic series in the collection. A quick review of the guide's contents will reveal that the collection consists of primarily twentieth century, black and white prints and negatives and that it's strengths are in the documentation of state highways and state buildings. Some 185,000 images are described in the guide, about one third of which pertain in some way to the "public works" theme. But upon closer examination, the researcher will uncover many other interesting items: images documenting the efforts of law enforcement officials to solve crimes and incarcerate and rehabilitate the guilty, the post–World War II expansion of the state's educational system, the management of the state's natural and agricultural resources, state officials, politicians and political campaigns, the celebration of the state's bounty at state and local fairs, and many others.
Guide entries are arranged alphabetically by the name of the state agency which created or collected the photographs. Collections from non–governmental agency sources are placed alphabetically following the aforementioned group. At the end of the guide listings are placed entries pertaining to unprocessed materials to which access may be limited.
Each entry bears a unique, sequential number at the beginning of the entry. The set of numbers which follows the entry number are collection identification numbers. Photographs are black and white unless otherwise specified.
Towards the end of most entries, the researcher will see a cross reference to other finding aids which either provide more extensive information about the collection described or about related records from the same state or local agency. Occasionally, references to restrictions concerning access are also found here. Contact the California State Archives Reference Desk for more information.