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From a camera museum done right: three generations of Argus C4s -- the original C4, the C4, with advance lever and rewind crank, and the C44R, with bayonet mount, surrounded by display labels and additional printed materials, from the Argus Museum in Ann Arbor, MI.

Camera and Photography Museums

Museums are thick on the ground in the United States. Travelers can hardly pass an Interstate exit without being invited to visit the Museum of This or the Collection of That -- museums that celebrate art and history and craft in topics that range from Picasso to Pez dispensers.

Conspicuous in their absence, though, are camera museums.

You might think that given the ubiquity of cameras and photography in our lives these days there would be at least as many camera museums as, say, farm-implement museums. Photography is becoming a staple of art museums everywhere, but even though art museums are devoting more gallery space to technology-related objects – musical instruments and navigational devices and such – cameras and photographic technology exhibits are far fewer in number. Just how much fewer even I didn’t realize until I set out to visit as many as possible. I started with some Internet research, and over the past three years I’ve visited several of the places I found. The list is here ordered two ways – by state and by museum name:

 Museums by State and City 
Museums by Name

I have visited several of them, and make some comments on what I saw. Those I haven’t seen yet are noted, and whatever description I found on the Internet is offered. As you might expect, quality varies. A museum should be a classroom, not just a warehouse, and too many of them don’t provide enough information about the items they display or why they’re important.

The list of museums is not a long one -- especially for a country with as much photographic history as the United States, and there's no institution on it that offers a collection as extensive as The Czech Republic's National Technical Museum in Prague, to pick just one example. Neither of the two largest collections are displayed in permanent galleries –- either at the George Eastman House in Rochester or the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The list has grown a bit since I first published in PHSNE’s monthly email newsletter, but if it’s still missing something, if there's a place I should know about, a museum that displays a camera collection worth visiting -- especially a place with a PHSNE connection -- please let me know about it. Send me an email at David...(click to see address) , and I'll make sure the rest of PHSNE hears about it, too.

~ David DeJean

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