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Photographic Services Collection inventory now available to search online

A photograph proof card and an envelope of negatives from Photographic Services Collection.

Fans of our historic photo collection can rejoice!  We’ve just completed the first phase of the Photographic Services Collection.  Thanks to the hard work of our volunteer, Lindsay Ploussard, we were able to create a finding aid that lists all of the sections of Nelson Smith’s original collection of Illinois State University photographic history that we currently hold.  The next phase of the collection will incorporate other groups of previously inaccessible materials including Smith’s color-slide collection and a number of his photographic prints.

But just who was Nelson Smith?  Smith was the university’s first photographer, hired by President Raymond Fairchild in 1939, while Smith was still a student at ISNU.  Always interested in photography, Smith was recommended to Fairchild by Dean Ralph Linkins, who had heard of his high school work through Smith’s local community.

Smith was given the equipment and supplies he needed to photograph the many events and activities of the university.  He took a brief hiatus from his photographing duties to serve in WWII as a photographer.  After the war, Smith returned to ISNU, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and built the university’s Photographic Services department.  Smith headed the department for over 50 years, taking countless photos of campus life.  If it weren’t for Smith’s work, we wouldn’t have the historic photograph slideshows and galleries you see online today.  The former General Services Building was renamed the Nelson Smith Building in his honor in 1996.

Over time, the collection was split up and subject sections went missing.  Since its move to the Archives in the late 2000’s, stacks of photographic proof cards and their negatives (shown above) have made their way back, but many pieces are still missing.

Do you have any Photographic Services photograph proof cards and/or negatives?  We’re asking all colleges, departments, and offices on campus to take a look in long-forgotten boxes and drawers.  With your help, we can rebuild Nelson Smith’s collection and make it whole once again.  If you have some cards or know where any could be, let us know by emailing us or giving us a call at (309) 438-3846.

In the meantime, if you’d like to see any of the photographs listed in the Photographic Services Collection, let us know.