The photographic collection tells the story of Columbia through pictures, including the planning and construction of the built environment, and the people and events that bring Columbia to life. Most of the images were taken to document the people, places and events of Columbia; yet, a few images offer, in addition, an artistic interpretation. Photographic formats include slides, negatives, and photographs, spanning from the mid-twentieth century to present.

Howard Research and Development Corporation (HRD) donated several hundred early Columbia photographs that were primarily black and white, 8×10 in. size, and several hundred early color slides. A wide range of early activity is depicted including the work group engaged in discussion, planners working on various maps, bulldozers clearing farmland, buildings under construction and aerial views that were used for planning. Over the years, HRD, Columbia Association, community organizations and residents have continued to capture pictorially the ongoing physical development of Columbia, primarily in color photographs and of various sizes. Local realtor Peg Gallagher donated a unique collection of more than 2,000, 3×5 in. photographs of individual houses taken during the 1970s-1980s.

Columbia Association and residents who are professional or amateur photographers have been and continue to be the primary sources of photographs documenting the people and events in Columbia. In the early 1980s, resident Ron Fedorczak started a lifetime avocation as volunteer community photographer when he photographed Columbia’s Birthday and City Fair celebrations.  Since then, hundreds of Ron’s photographs serve to document such varied events as Columbia Festival of the Arts, International Day, BikeAbout, the Great Cardboard Boat Regatta, Columbia Archives Open House and openings and closings of local theaters, buildings and restaurants.  Another resident, Donald Reichle, has donated hundreds of photographs of interfaith events, neighborhood block parties and other Columbia celebrations. Among the gems that can be found in the collection are: Merriweather Post Pavilion opening ceremonies; Nora Ephron speaking at A Day for All Women; Wilde Lake Interfaith Center groundbreaking; Columbia Mall poinsettia tree; NBC’s Ed Rabel at Columbia Archives; and Jim Rouse receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  There is one A. Aubrey Bodine photograph of people leaving a concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion taken soon after its opening in 1967.

Noted photographers in the collection include Morton Tadder, Frank Toth, Robert de Gast, Max Araujo, David Hobby, Fern Eisner, Scott Kramer and James Ferry. The collection contains materials that are in the public domain as well as materials that are protected by copyright.

The general photograph collection is arranged by location within Columbia, with the exception of a few select categories, like people. Photographs that entered the Archives as part of a manuscript or archival collection are arranged so that they stay tied to the collection.