About Vanishing Georgia

Vanishing Georgia comprises nearly 18,000 images originally selected by the Georgia Division of Archives and History. Beginning in 1975 with a minimally funded pilot project, the archivists from the Georgia Archives envisioned a field program that would invite individuals, schools, churches and businesses to come forward with photographs and to tell the stories behind those photographs. Georgians were generous with both photos and stories, and the initial field trips were a success. The pictures and accompanying data uniquely described a "Vanishing Georgia."

Through a National Endowment for the Humanities grant from 1977-1979, the collection continued to grow. The Georgia Archives staff visited county seats and other locations around the state, traveling on a converted school bus, its side repainted with the Vanishing Georgia logo. The bus doubled as a photo lab. On board, the photographer would photograph the photographs, returning the originals to the donors. Donors supplied the original photographs that spanned the history of photography from its inception, and documented over 100 years of Georgia life. The majority of the photographs, depicting a diverse range of subject matter, are from 1890-1930.

Accompanying the photographer on the trips, were the field archivists. They sought photographs that would document the economic, social, cultural, and political history of Georgia. Within those guidelines, they made selections and conducted interviews with donors, keeping field notes based on those interviews. Though this was not an oral history project, it ultimately draws from oral history, as persons described what they remembered of the people, places, and events depicted in the photographs.

The cataloged records for the images were created from these field notes and supplemented with additional research when possible. At the time of digitization, cataloging at the item level has been done for approximately 12,000 of the Vanishing Georgia images. Approximately 6,000 Vanishing Georgia photographs have not been formally cataloged, though information about those photographs still exists and is presented at the level of notes taken by the field archivist. All cataloging represents the work of the Georgia Archives done from 1975 forward. The cataloged records and the field notes are based on the information that was gathered from the donors of the original photographs. Depending on the cataloger and the nature of the information sometimes the record may use the wording of the donors. Due to privacy concerns, it was determined that the donors' names should be withheld from the cataloged records so information is not presented as a quote. The cataloged record for each image, identified by an assigned control number, includes a description which features the location of the photograph and an approximate date, (may be a span of years or a decade), information about the type of original, and the photographer if one is known. As the information accompanying some of the photographs is based on donor information it may be fragmentary if no further information was discovered about the subject of the photograph.

Through additional state funding, photographs were gathered until 1996. However, in the latter years, as funding dwindled, field trips could no longer be funded, and the Georgia Archives relied on interested individuals to bring photographs to them. The collection to date does not include photographs from each of Georgia's 159 counties, nor are the collections for each of the included counties comprehensive. However, many Georgia counties have since patterned historic photograph collection projects after Vanishing Georgia, continuing the legacy.

With Vanishing Georgia now firmly established as the cornerstone, historic photograph collections are now considered to be an essential part of the cultural heritage of the state. With both documentary and artistic value, these photographs are a testament to the endeavors and the vision of the archivists who sought to save them for posterity.