About Photo Album of the Irish

Gallery of Photography Ireland initiated the Photo Album of the Irish project in 2014. We wanted to record and celebrate the ordinary and extraordinary histories of people with Irish heritage reflected in family photograph albums. The process of digitally collecting material enables us to collect and preserve important individual histories that would not ordinarily be included in institutional archives. The making of family photographs is often a conscious act of remembering a moment in time, mindful that a record is being created for the future. However, it is important to acknowledge that there are often aspects of our family histories we choose not to remember or make visible.

From the outset we have actively sought to include families from diverse backgrounds all over the island of Ireland, embracing a wide variety of narratives. As the digital archive grows, we continue to share the work of the project through publications, a series of exhibitions and a dedicated project website. In 2019 we extended the scope of the project in order to work with the Irish diaspora in America. With support from the Government of Ireland Emigrant Support Programme, this iteration of the project reflects on the diverse and varied experience of Canada’s Irish diaspora, as seen through their own family albums.

Photo albums give a fascinating insight into our family histories, revealing details about how people lived and worked that official histories can often overlook. We were interested to uncover the many roles that photography has played in reflecting our past and recording our present. We were particularly interested in photographs that give an insight into daily life — how people travelled, worked, played; how they kept in touch with relatives; and how they chose to present themselves to the camera.

The overall archive demonstrates the evolution of photography from slow and cumbersome early processes to the ease and immediacy with which we can now share images. As the Photo Album of the Irish archive grows, it will become an important national and international resource, giving a unique insight into the history of the people from the island of Ireland across the world. It is fitting that, as we approach the centenary of the establishment of the independent Irish Free State and the State of Northern Ireland, this latest edition of the project builds towards 100 family histories, embracing and reflecting a broad spectrum of cultural identities.

Derhams and Courtneys at Dublin Airport waving Kevin and Kay off for their honeymoon, October 1953

Guidelines for contributors

What type of photographs are of interest?

We are looking to gather photographs from peoples’ personal private family albums or photographic collections held in private hands. We are interested in photographs with a connection to Ireland – photographs of people who lived in Ireland, people who left Ireland or relatives of people who are now living in Ireland. Of particular interest are photographs that show how past generation lived: their clothes, living and working conditions, social activities and more public historical events. We are looking for photographs (or slides) that contain information that tell us something about how people lived – preferably with faces of people clearly visible. This could include:

Maternal grandparents, Matt Derham and Elizabeth (Eilis) Kelly with wedding guests outside Shamrock Cottage, Skerries, County Dublin, 11 August 1919.

  • Photographs that show the domestic lives of people
  • People at work – in rural or urban settings
  • Photographs that show what people wore – for both ordinary and special events
  • Family occasions or events such as weddings, funerals, or religious events
  • Social activities such as formal or informal events, sporting events, holidays and outings – photographs that show how people travelled
  • People in formal education – graduation photos, at school etc.
  • Studio portraits
  • Photographs relating to conflict – political struggle, War of Independence, Civil War, World War I, World War II /Emergency, photos of combatants etc.
  • Public historical events, political events or parades
  • We are particularly interested in discovering what the oldest photographs are in private hands. It is fine if the old photographs have some damage.
  • Ideally, we rather not scan photocopies or poor quality copies as they will not reproduce well.

Your family photographs are digitally scanned by our project team using a high quality digital scanner. The scanner does not damage your image. A good quality digital copy is given to each contributor. The specific details of each photograph are recorded. We record whatever information is known from each contributor e.g.:


  • Who is the photograph about?
  • What is happening in the photographs?
  • Where was the photograph taken?
  • When was the photograph taken?
  • Who took the photograph?
What type of photographs can be scanned?

Grandfather John Joe Clerkin, with Paul on Bragan, Monaghan 1972.

We can scan original individual photographs up to A4 in size. Small vintage box brownie photographs (around 3″ x 2″ in size) scan particularly well. The better the quality of the original images, the better the scan, but as this is a digital gathering project we can use software to enhance the images. For photographs in albums, we prefer not to remove photographs where possible. If the removal of images carries any risk of damage we scan the entire album page – but only if this does not affect the binding of the album itself. If the album is not too thick or is not too fragile it may not be possible to scan the photograph in the album. In this case, we photograph the album page. We can also scan 35mm negatives, medium format 6 x 6mm and 6 x 7mm film and slides to standard formats. For larger formats, we can arrange to use a specialist scanner. The number of photographs that can be scanned is limited by time – on average it is possible to scan around 60 separate images at each one-day session.

The project is building an online website which is publicly accessible. Contributors are asked to bring only those photos they are happy to share on the project website and in the project exhibition and projections. The Creative Commons license restricts commercial usage. Please check with any family members to ensure they are happy to have the family photographs publicly shared. The contributor can request that photographs be removed at any time.

What happens to the scanned copy of your photograph?

“Nov. 1956 Cowan Ave. Toronto Neil buys pop-corn from this street hawker. Steam can be seen coming out of the side. As the hawker pushes his cart around it emits a peculiar whistle and that’s the signal for kids to run out and meet him. Pop corn is related to corn flakes but looks and tastes different.”

We upload the digital image to the this website. The project will retain a digital scan of your family photograph for use by the Photo Album of Ireland. The project is using Creative Commons licence – details in the terms and conditions section of the website.

Each contributor is agreeing that their images will be shared on the project website, touring exhibitions and projections. Contributors are given a high quality digital scan of their photo.

Individual Scanning sessions

“Jan. 1957 Lollipops to lick and Donald Duck to watch on T.V. What more could a boy want?”

The first series of workshops began in 2014. Working on individual scanning sessions enabled us to scan an entire Family Album in one sitting. It created a more intimate secure environment for the contributor to discuss, consider, select, scan, and impart the details of the photographs they have chosen to digitally share with the archive – images of importance to them, or photographs of more general interest. The individual scanning sessions last on average between 4-5 hours.

The process of looking over an entire family’s photographic archive is intense and demanding. Not all images are of interest – but some may contain sensitive issues. In such cases, being able to work individually and slowly with each contributor gives us the necessary time to ensure that dignity and respect are maintained.

At the first meeting, the project researchers discuss the project in detail and outline what will happen to the family photographs they digitally share. The contributor is invited to go through their family photographs to select a representative selection of photographs (typically between twenty and fifty) to be scanned. A member of the project team will digitally scan the photographs, using a high-end flatbed scanner. Each scan takes around 4 minutes. The scanner does not damage the photographs and all images are handled with great care.

Advice is given on storage and future care of photographs. Each image is returned to the album or collection owner immediately. A good quality digital copy is given to each contributor. The specific details of each photograph are recorded on the archive submission form. The Photo Album retains a digital scan of the family/private photograph for use (by agreement) by the Photo Album of Ireland. Each contributor will be required to sign agreement forms and give contact details.

What details do we want to record?

Ideally, we are looking for as much information as possible from each contributor: who is in the photograph, what is their relationship to the contributor, where and when was the picture taken, and by whom. In some cases, the relevant information about our family photographs is not always known but broader information about location and the subject may be known.

Ethics & Values

The process of reviewing collections of private photographs, discussing the histories and stories they contain, scanning the images and recording biographical or anecdotal details can be an intense and lengthy process. From the perspective of the contributor, it is potentially quite an emotional experience to revisit the memories contained with the private or family album. As such it is a sensitive process that demands attention and consideration.

  • Value each contribution equally.
  • Respect the right of each contributor to own their own truth.
  • Treat each contributor with care and respect.
  • Value the generosity of sharing private photographs into the public sphere
  • Value the time involved in contributing to the archive.

All work of the Photo Album project is subject to copyright where applicable. The contributor family retains the copyright where applicable. By contributing to the Photo Album of Ireland you guarantee that: you own the rights to this digital material; or the owner of these rights has authorised you to submit the digital material under the following conditions; or the digital material that you submit is not copyright protected.

The project will be made available on the Photo Album of Ireland website, in exhibitions and projections. By submitting digital material to the Photo Album of Ireland you are agreeing to the Photo Album of Ireland Terms for User Contributions. Takedown Policy – the project will take down material where requested by the contributor.

Content on the website which is not covered by copyright is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Non-commercial No-derivatives International Licence. This is the most restrictive of the available licences. The Photo Album of Ireland has applied a CC-BY-NC-ND licence to most content on the project website. This content includes photographs, scanned archival documents, videos and publications. This means that the contributor allows the project to digitally share the content on the project website, or through digital reproduction in exhibition or screen based presentation they irrevocably grant third parties the right to freely use that content for non-commercial purposes, as long as they attribute the work to the author and copyright and make no derivatives. In cases where the Photo Album of Ireland does not have permission to assign a licence to content, this content will be clearly marked with the appropriate licence or copyright statement. This means that for the content you contribute (a photo, album detail, text, a picture or audio material), you are agreeing to make the material available subject to the following conditions of usage.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Non-commercial No-derivatives International Licence

Conditions of Usage

  • Usage – Viewers/users are free to:
  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format. The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.
  • Under the following terms:
  • Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way
  • that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
  • NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
  • NoDerivatives — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.
  • No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

Notices: You do not have to comply with the license for elements of the material in the public domain or where your use is permitted by an applicable exception or limitation.
If you do not want to accept these terms, then please do not contribute content or descriptive data to The Photo Album of Ireland project.

What is a Creative Commons Licence?

Creative Commons is a licensing system that allows content creators to assign a licence to their work rather than reserve their full rights under Copyright law. Photo Album of Ireland by www.photoalbumoftheirish.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Please use the following attribution when reusing CC- BY-NC-ND licensed content from the Photo Album of Ireland project website: “This work includes content from the Photo Album of Ireland’s project website, www.photoalbumoftheirish.com, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Non-commercial No-derivatives(CC BY-BY-NC-ND 4.0)”

For further information on Creative Commons licensing, please see www.creativecommons.org.