OTTUMWA -- What is being described as the world’s largest, best-documented, privately owned photo collection will soon be available online for use at any time, anywhere.
Ottumwan Michael W. Lemberger, a lifelong photographer and historian, died in 2016 at the age of 74. He left a collection of 1.5 million images, including his own work and historic photos from the 1880s through the early 21st century. Included are images from around the world and the nation, including ten US presidents, as well as a broad range of illustrations of Iowans and Iowa.
Through a historic and innovative collaboration between the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa, the materials in the Lemberger Collection will be made available to the public in person and online. UNI’s pilot project, Fortepan Iowa -- fortepan.us -- will share high-resolution images under Creative Commons licensing. The materials will be housed at the University of Iowa, and students from both universities will have full access.
“It’s photography of Iowa, the people of Iowa,” said Lemberger’s widow, LeAnn Lemberger. “The universities are very enthusiastic about this collection because of all that’s in it. The University of Northern Iowa is more interested in the photos of ordinary people, and the University of Iowa is interested because of the historical importance.”
The collection is already being used as a resource in several Iowa school districts, offering students an innovative way to study history, social studies, art, and other subjects. Students are encouraged to choose a photograph as inspiration for projects ranging from animated collages and short stories to architectural studies and engineering designs.
The completed presentations inspired by the photographs will be showcased at a celebration event to be held from 4 - 6 p.m. on Monday, April 24, at Bridge View Center in Ottumwa. The event will highlight the collection and honor the life and work of Michael W. Lemberger. Many of the people who will be involved in the collaboration will attend, as well as community leaders and those who have been impacted by the collection. The public is invited.
Sponsors for the event are the Ottumwa Courier and the Legacy Foundation.
“Photography was Michael’s passion, so sharing his work with the whole world is a way to honor him,” said his widow. “This is a gift from Ottumwa to the people of Iowa and of the world.”