The society’s archive was in Washington during its early years and then moved to Gaithersburg, Md., in the late 1970s. But in 1996 it moved back to the society’s Washington headquarters on 17th Street, into a 2,000-square-foot underground room, designed by Mr. Bonner and lined with motorized shelves. “We call it the very foundation on which National Geographic sits,” said Ms. Mulvihill, who added that because the society is now, like many other institutions, digitizing its archives, the way was cleared to consider selling the original material from a stockpile of slightly less than a half-million vintage prints.
The archive also includes glass-plate negatives and one of the world’s most important collections of autochromes, the earliest examples of color photography. In a walk-in refrigerated vault near the main archive room, the society stores hundreds of thousands of delicate 35-millimeter color transparencies and negatives, and its hard drives hold hundreds of thousands more images taken since the advent of digital photography.
Three further exhibitions planned by Mr. Kasher’s gallery will offer new limited-edition color prints made from the society’s negatives and digital files. (Though the society is selling the images, it will retain the digital and publication rights to them.)
Ms. Mulvihill said that while the black-and-white show would contain only a tiny fraction of the society’s vintage prints, National Geographic had decided to hold nothing of that collection back from sale if the right buyers were interested. “In some cases, it would be painful,” she said, “but we would certainly consider the offer.”
Das ist ein Skandal: Nach der Digitalisierung wird die Sammlung einzigartiger Originale – ein weißgott schützenswertes Ensemble – in alle Welt zerstreut.