Burns Archive

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The Burns Archive is the world’s largest private collection of early medical photography and historic photographs, housing over one million photographs. [1][2]

Photo from the book, Shooting Soldiers: Civil War Medical Photography by Dr. R.B. Bontecou. Written by Dr. Stanley B. Burns, published by Burns Archive Press. This photograph depicts G. Porubsky, Co B. 46th NY volunteer soldier displaying excision of the humerus. This photograph from Bontecou's teaching album shows Bontecou's operation of bone removal in the upper arm, which left the patient with a useless limb.
Burns Archive
The Burns Archive logo.
Founded 1975
Founder Dr. Stanley B. Burns
Country of origin United States
Headquarters location New York City
Publication types Books, photographic historic texts, medical journal articles, exhibition supplements
Nonfiction topics Historic Photography, Medical Photography, Post-mortem Photography
Imprints Burns Archive Press
Official website www.burnsarchive.com


Known as one of the world’s most important repositories of early medical history,[3] images of “the darker side of life” make up the collection:[4] anatomical and medical oddities, memorial and post-mortem photography, and original historic photographs depicting death, disease, disaster, crime, racism, revolution, riots, and war.[5] The collection traces the history of photography, from it's beginnings in 1839 to the 1950s, and includes hundreds of thousands of Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes,[6] carte de visites, and hand-colored photographs.[7] The Burns Archive actively acquires, donates, researches, lectures, exhibits, consults,[8] and shares its rare and unusual[9] photographs and expertise worldwide.

The Archive’s medical collection houses photographs in the categories of pioneers and innovators, operative scenes, therapy and treatments, disease and pathology, medical specialties, interesting cases and medical curiosities, hospitals and wards, nursing, alternative practitioners, anatomy and education, laboratories and doctors’ offices, medicine and war, and more.[10] Many of these collected pictures allowed the medical community of the era to share knowledge and define pathology.[11] The Archive's historical collection ranges from categories of death and memorial, war and conflict, and crime and punishment, to occupations and industry, social and cultural history, photographic history, Judaica, Egyptology, ethnology, folk, and African American history.[12][13] The collection has been featured in over 100 exhibitions[14] at museums and galleries worldwide, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Paris' Musée d'Orsay,[15] and has donated thousands of images to institutions, including The Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Modern Art, and the J. Paul Getty Museum.[16]

Dr. Stanley B. Burns, the Archive’s Founder, is a New York City ophthalmologist who acquired his first medical photograph in 1975 and established the Burns Archive in 1977.[17] The Archive began receiving recognition in 1978, when a selection of its 19th and 20th century photographs were featured in the Time Life Encyclopedia of Collectibles entry on photographs.[18] The Archive was called “one of the world’s most important repositories of early medical history” by The New York Times,[19] “the world’s greatest collection of early medical photography” by New York (magazine), “one of the six most important collections in the world” by Aperture (magazine), “one of America’s Top 100 Collectors” by Art and Antiques Magazine, and “the most important privately held photo archive in the world” by New York’s The Village Voice.[20]

Having written over 1,100 articles and over 40 books, the Burns Archive has published photographic historic texts[21] ranging from Victorian era funeral portraits to early oncology.[22] Dr. Burns authored Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography In America, and Forgotten Marriage: The Painted Tintype & The Decorative Frame, 1860-1910, A Lost Chapter in American Portraiture, which both received the American Photographic Historical Society's award for the best publication of their kind, an honor never before bestowed on one author.[23] Sleeping Beauty (disambiguation) was praised by Pulitzer Prize winning author, John Updike, in the American Heritage (magazine) article he wrote on the book.[24] Burns Archive Creative Director, Elizabeth A. Burns, co-authored various books with Dr. Burns, including Sleeping Beauty II: Grief, Bereavement & the Family, American and European Traditions, as well as Geisha: A Photographic History, 1872-1912, and the upcoming Stiffs, Skulls, and Skeletons, which will be released in 2014 from Schiffer Publishing.[25][26]

Images from the Burns Archive have been a major source for various documentaries (Ken Burns, the History (TV channel), PBS American Experience, television series (NBC’s Hannibal (TV series), HBO’s Autopsy (TV series), Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum, Cinemax's The Knick), and feature films (Silence of the Lambs (film), Gangs of New York, The Others (2001 film)), and has inspired artists from Joel Peter Witkin to makeup artists for Jacob's Ladder (film).[27][28]

Stanley B. Burns MD, Elizabeth A. Burns, and The Burns Archive, serve as the medical, historical and technical advisers for Steven Soderbergh’s period medical Cinemax series, The Knick, starring Clive Owen.[29] The Knick looks at the professional and personal lives of Dr. John W. Thackery (played by Owen) and the staff at New York's Knickerbocker Hospital during the early part of the twentieth century. The Archive was instrumental in the recreation of turn-of-the-century medicine,[30] as Dr. Burns worked closely with production and the actors to make the hospital scenes realistic and authentic to the period.[31][32] Dr. Burns provided immersive tutorials in the world of early-20th-century surgery, complete with hands-on practice.[33] The Archive's extensive photographic record of medical history served as comprehensive resources for procedures[34] and became important references for everything from the antiseptic atomizers in the operating theater to an early X-ray machine, to the prosthetic worn by a recurring character.[35]


The Burns Archive, through Burns Archive Press and other publishers, has published over 40 books in 40 years, including:[36][37]

  • (2014) Stiffs, Skulls, & Skeletons: Medical Photography and Symbolism, with Elizabeth A. Burns
  • (2012) Mirror, Mirror: The Burns Collection Daguerreotypes
  • (2011) Shooting Soldiers: Civil War Medical Photography By R.B. Bontecou
  • (2011) Sleeping Beauty III: Memorial Photography: The Children
  • (2009) Ophthalmology: A Photographic History 1845-1945, Volumes 1-4
  • (2008) Deadly Intent: Crime and Punishment Photographs from the Burns Archive
  • (2008) News Art: The Manipulated Photographs from the Burns Archive
  • (2007) Nephrology: A Photographic History 1840-1950, Volumes 1-4
  • (2007) Seeing Insanity: Photography & The Depiction of Mental Illness
  • (2006) Geisha: A Photographic History 1872-1912, with Elizabeth A. Burns
  • (2006) Patients & Promise: A Photographic History of Mental & Mood Disorders, Vol 1-4
  • (2005) Photographic History of Early Podiatry: Selections from the Burns Archive
  • (2005) Skin Pictures: Masterpiece Photographs Of Nineteenth Century Dermatology, Volumes 1-4
  • (2004) Oncology: Tumors & Treatment A Photographic History 1845-1945, Volumes 1-4
  • (2003) Respiratory Disease: A Photographic History, 1845-1945
  • (2002) Sleeping Beauty II: Grief, Bereavement and The Family In Memorial Photography with Elizabeth A. Burns
  • (2002) The American Dentist: A Pictoral History
  • (1998) American Surgery: An Illustrated History
  • (1998) A Morning's Work: Medical Photographs from The Burns Archive & Collection 1843-1939
  • (1995) Forgotten Marriage: The Painted Tintype & The Decorative Frame, 1860-1910, A Lost Chapter in American Portraiture
  • (1994) Harm's Way: Lust & Madness, Murder & Mayhem, with Joel Peter Witkin
  • (1993) Face of Mercy: A Photographic History of Medicine at War
  • (1991) Photographie Et Medecine: 1840-1880
  • (1990) Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America
  • (1987) Masterpieces of Medical Photography: Selections from the Burns Archive, with Joel Peter Witkin
  • (1983) American Medical Publication With Photographs (Monograph) New York State Journal of Medicine
  • (1983) Early Medical Photography in America: 1839-1883
  • (1980) Civil War Medical Photography, (Monograph) New York State Journal of Medicine

Feature Films[edit]

The Burns Archive has contributed images, as well as consulting and advisory services to various feature films, including:[38]

The Others, directed by Alejandro Amenábar, starring Nicole Kidman
Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
Silence of the Lambs, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster
Gangs of New York, directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio
Sleepers, starring Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon
Men in Black III, starring Will Smith
Looking for Richard, directed by Al Pacino
Jacob's Ladder, starring Tim Robbins
Fur, starring Nicole Kidman
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, produced by Robert Altman
The Haunting in Connecticut, directed by Peter Cornwell
Mother Night, a film adaptation of the Kurt Vonnegut novel
The Proposition, written by Nick Cave
Idlewild, starring André 3000

Documentaries and Television[edit]

The Burns Archive has contributed images, as well as consulting and advisory services, to various documentaries and television series, including:[39]

The Knick via Cinemax, directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Clive Owen
The Civil War via Ken Burns and PBS
Lincoln at Gettysburg via PBS
Hannibal via NBC
The Poisoner's Handbook via the PBS American Experience
Flight from Death, directed by Patrick Shen, a seven-time Best Documentary award-winning film
Who Do You Think You Are via NBC
Mysteries at the Museum via the Travel Channel
History's Mysteries via The History Channel
Autopsy (TV series) with Michael Baden via HBO


  1. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/arts/television/modern-medicine-circa-1900-in-soderberghs-the-knick.html?_r=0
  2. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/index.html
  3. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/arts/television/modern-medicine-circa-1900-in-soderberghs-the-knick.html?_r=0
  4. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/nyregion/the-morbid-anatomy-museum-opens-in-brooklyn.html
  5. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/nyregion/the-morbid-anatomy-museum-opens-in-brooklyn.html
  6. ^ http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/archive/programs/shootingthepast/archives_feature/burns.html
  7. ^ http://resobox.com/working-life-meiji-japan-1868-1912/
  8. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/Services/index.html
  9. ^ http://www.newsweek.com/rare-and-unusual-photos-and-images-burns-archive-73799
  10. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/Explore/index.html
  11. ^ http://discovermagazine.com/2006/sep/burnsarchive
  12. ^ http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/archive/programs/shootingthepast/archives_feature/burns.html
  13. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/Explore/index.html
  14. ^ http://www.academia.edu/484010/Exhibition_Shadow_and_Substance_African_American_Images_from_the_Burns_Archive_
  15. ^ http://finance.yahoo.com/news/burns-archive-supplies-medical-expertise-202900489.html
  16. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/Philanthropy/index.html
  17. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/SBB_MD/index.html
  18. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/resources/PDF-Folder/encyclopedia-of-collectibles-1978-burns-archive.pdf
  19. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/arts/television/modern-medicine-circa-1900-in-soderberghs-the-knick.html?_r=0
  20. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/Press/index.html
  21. ^ http://mentalfloss.com/article/58736/interview-dr-stanley-burns-knicks-medical-advisor
  22. ^ http://nymag.com/health/bestdoctors/2014/cutting-edge-medicine-2014-6/
  23. ^ http://www.eastlandmemorial.org/blackmirror.shtml
  24. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/resources/PDF-Folder/american-heritage-mag-updike-article-1992-burns-archive.pdf
  25. ^ http://www.schifferbooks.com/stiffs-skulls-skeletons-medical-photography-and-symbolism-5668.html
  26. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/SBB_MD/index.html
  27. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/Press/index.html
  28. ^ http://www.13abc.com/story/26204353/the-burns-archive-supplies-medical-expertise-to-new-drama-series-the-knick
  29. ^ http://www.13abc.com/story/26204353/the-burns-archive-supplies-medical-expertise-to-new-drama-series-the-knick
  30. ^ http://www.13abc.com/story/26204353/the-burns-archive-supplies-medical-expertise-to-new-drama-series-the-knick
  31. ^ http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/medicine-past-present-and-future/#more-32874
  32. ^ http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2014/07/09/the-knick-starring-clive-owen-directed-by-steven-soderbergh-to-preimier-august-8-on-cinemax/281195/
  33. ^ http://mentalfloss.com/article/58737/5-things-we-learned-knicks-medical-advisor
  34. ^ http://www.fastcocreate.com/3033915/bloody-hell-steven-soderbergh-dissects-his-modern-1900s-medical-drama-the-knick
  35. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/arts/television/modern-medicine-circa-1900-in-soderberghs-the-knick.html
  36. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/Shoppe/index.html
  37. ^ http://nymag.com/health/bestdoctors/2014/cutting-edge-medicine-2014-6/
  38. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/Projects/index.html
  39. ^ http://www.burnsarchive.com/Projects/index.html

External links[edit]