Photo Editor Explains How Vintage Photos Lead the New York Times Onto Tumblr

Earlier this week The New York Times made its first foray onto Tumblr with The Lively Morgue, which showcases vintage photographs from the newspaper’s print archive, which is known as “the morgue” for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, according to the Times.

“[Launching a Tumblr blog] made sense for a lot of reasons,” says deputy photo editor Meaghan Looram, who was one of several Times staffers who worked on the project. “Obviously Tumblr is a super visual platform and on top of that, from what I understand, vintage photography is really popular on Tumblr.”

In addition to showing the scans of vintage photographic prints, The Lively Morgue’s custom design also allows viewers to inspect the backs of the prints, where they can see editors’ markings, original captions and other information about the images, and the way the newsroom trafficked and filed them.

“For someone that’s not interested in that level of detail they can appreciate the fronts of the images,” Looram notes, “but I think [showing the backs of the prints] gives the project a really nice level of sophistication and added value. And for people that are interested in photo archiving or photo history or the history of the paper, I think it’s just a really interesting level of detail.”

Through its first few days, the Times‘ Tumblr has featured photographs from the 1930s, 50s, 60s and 70s, ranging in subject matter from sports to fashion to crime. As of Wednesday night, the blog already had roughly 10,000 followers, Looram says. Several of the images had hundreds of notes and reblogs.

Looram notes there is some concern over the amount of control the Times is relinquishing, because Tumblr allows for rapid sharing and dissemination of content. To encourage people who like the images they see on Tumblr to buy prints, The Lively Morgue features a link to a Times store where prints can be ordered. “In a lot of cases these are prints that you can buy through our store, so we’re hoping that people will do that,” Looram explains. “But I think that that’s something that we have to be concerned about even with images on our Web site.”

Though The Lively Morgue links to a print store, Looram says the project was “primarily motivated by an interest in editorially getting these images seen, and also finding an appropriate foray for us into Tumblr.”

The project, which was based on a series of posts picture editor Darcy Eveleigh created on the Times‘ photojournalism blog, Lens, originated with Heena Koh, a member of the Times’ digital design team, and Alexis Mainland, the social media editor. Looram says everyone working on it is doing it “in addition to their own duties” because they are excited about the platform and the opportunity to share the archive.

The social media success of the Lens blog, and of the Times‘ photography in general, also generated energy, Looram says. “I think we’re very encouraged by the popularity of the Lens blog and the amount of sharing in social networks about our photography and photography that we’re highlighting, so that’s definitely encouraging to us and probably was a good indicator for the level of interest we would see in a project like The Lively Morgue.”

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