Picture research

Guide to finding photographs, illustrations and other images in the State Library of Victoria's collections

Popular topics

This box contains suggestions for searching popular topics. Further down the page you will find advice on Dating old photographs ; Portraits ; and Conservation help.

Within this 'Popular topics' box there are suggestions for searching:

Australian Aborigines

The SLV research guide, Koori Victoria and the State Library of Victoria collections, covers this area in detail. The sections on Pictures and the Riley & Ephemera Collection are of particular value if you are looking for images.

Catalogue search hint
When searching the catalogue, link the various forms of the search word with 'OR', so you capture most of the images available.

For example try aborigines OR aboriginal or search using the asterisk; aborig* . Choose the Pictures option from the dropdown list next to the Search box  to limit the search to images only.

Use of images in publication or display
Although copyright law applies to Indigenous works in the same way as it applies to other works, Indigenous works may have additional legal and cultural issues, for instance they may include secret or sacred information, or information obtained without the consent of the relevant Indigenous people.

Please use our enquiry services if you need further information.


The Burke and Wills expedition is explored and presented in a new website Dig: The Burke & Wills Research Gateway. More images of the Burke and Wills expedition can be searched on our catalogue.

Images of other explorations can be searched on the catalogue by using subject headings like:

  • Antarctica 
  • Explorers 
  • Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917
  • Burke and Wills Expedition (1860-1861)

Examples of series of images you can search include:

  • Antarctic landscapes, fauna and activities relating to various Antarctic expeditions, ca. 1907-1931.
  • Gordon H. Woodhouse collection.
  • Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917. 
  • Images relating to discovery of Australia
  • British - Australian - New Zealand Antarctic Expedition (BANZARE) 1929-31. 
  • Images relating to discovery of Australia 1606-1910.

Cars, ships & trains

Collections which include significant and interesting pictures of cars are:

We have produced a guide to finding images of ships held in our collections and elsewhere.

Images of trains and train related items appear in:

Images of cars or trains can be searched by choosing the Pictures option from the dropdown list next to the Search box and searching for your subject using headings like:

  • Railroads 
  • Railroad trains 
  • Locomotives 
  • Railways
  • Trains
  • Engines 
  • Railroad stations 
  • Railroad bridges 
  • Railroad tracks


The search term ‘fashion’ will bring up thousands of images on our catalogue. Interesting collections to browse include:

Read an essay about fashion photography in Australia:

Daniel Palmer, “Tracing the Origins of Australian Fashion PhotographyLa Trobe Journal, No 76 Spring 2005

Garden history

The Library’s holdings – including pictorial works – on garden history and landscape architecture are highlighted on our website:

An especially helpful resource is the ‘Guide to sources’ published at the back of the publication Gardenesque. Major collections from the Pictures and Australian Manuscripts Collections are listed and described to help those who seek further detailed information on Australian gardens and gardening.

Choose the Pictures option from the dropdown list next to the Search box to search for  images of gardens and gardening.

  • Landscape architecture Australia designs and plans
  • Landscape architecture drawing
  • Botanical gardens Victoria Melbourne 
  • Botanical gardens Victoria Ballarat 
  • Gardens

Places & events

A good way to search for images of towns, streets, gardens, public and private buildings is to start with specific terms, then broaden your search if you have no luck.

For example, if you’re searching for a named property in a particular suburb, start by the name - eg Villa Alba. If that search is unsuccessful, try the street name in case the house is captured in a wider view. Then broaden further and search for views of the suburb.

Events can be searched by name of the event, for example:


Sporting images can be found by using the term ‘sport’ to search broadly, or by using the name of the specific sport you are interested in.

The Boyles collection is an interesting collection in the Pictures Collection.


Useful general search terms include:

  • Actors
  • Actresses
  • Entertainers
  • Theaters
  • Theatre
  • Theater

 Interesting collections include:

We have produced a guide to finding information about performance and theatre held in our collections and elsewhere.

Travel & leisure 

Search for the activity you are interested in. Examples are:

  • Bushwalking
  • Hiking

Collections of interest include:


Search by the war you are interested in. For example:

  • World War, 1914-1918
  • World War, 1939-1945

Collections of significance include:

Dating old photographs

If you wish to date your own family photographs, here are some suggestions of how you can go about it:

1. Is the photographer's name printed or otherwise noted on the photo? If yes, then you can try and find the photographer on the catalogue, in the books Australians behind the camera, or The mechanical eye in Australia, or simply on Google. Their birth and death dates, or dates and place of operation will help you get a rough idea of when the photo was taken.

2. The type of photograph can help date it. Some photographic techniques disappeared as new technology superceded them. The mechanical eye in Australia has many examples that you can use to compare to your photograph. There are descriptions and a chart at the back of the book with date ranges covering when particular techniques were used.

3. What people are wearing in the photo also helps date it. Dating family photos by Lenore Frost is a particularly helpful book. Searching our digitised collections may also be of help when looking at what people were wearing. This would involve a lot of browsing, but may be rewarding. The John Etkins collection for example, is made up of over 2000 portraits, and may prove very helpful. You could also search for words like 'bonnet' or 'singlet', or other items of clothing.

4. If the photo is of a view rather than a portrait, then noting any significant landmarks and trying to date them, may help narrow down the date of the photo.


Unidentified young woman, possibly Lucy Hodgkinson, dressed in bonnet and shawl,
ca. 1860, ambrotype, Pictures Collection, H98.55/4

Conservation help

Our conservation experts can help you with information about preserving, storing and protecting publicly or privately held collections and materials.

There are a range of conservation information guides to help you care for your books, newspapers, photographs, works on paper and documents. They explain how to deal with pests, mould, storage and framing.

Edna Walling, Hands turning pages of a book, ca. 1940-ca. 1960, photograph, Pictures Collection, H98.120/21



Arthur W. Headlam, MacRobertson Fountain, ca. 1934-ca. 1940, photograph, Pictures Collection, H98.167/5

Cars & trains


Ernest Edward Wagstaff, in the middle, standing beside a Daimler automobile, ca. 1908 - ca. 1917, photograph, Pictures Collection, H82.254/2


Red Letter Press, Come to the Zoo by train, 1981, silkscreen poster, Pictures Collection, H2003.90/384



Manton's catalogue, "557" Afternoon frock of flowered taffeta; organdy trimming, pencil and watercolour, Pictures Collection, H87.188/24

Places & events


Dennis Mayor, Surf carnival. At Bridgewater Bay, near Portland, Western Victoria, 1977, transparency, Pictures Collection, H95.73/464


Georgia Metaxas, Hellenic Dancefest series, Crown Casino, 19th September 1999, 1999, photograph, Pictures Collection, H2000.142/9


To find portraits use 'advanced search' to search by surname first, or by the person’s full name as a phrase.You can also search:

  • other websites (see the tab Further resources)
  • The Portraits Index on card in the Pictures Collection. Please use our enquiry services if you are interested in consulting this catalogue. 



Sue Ford, Self Portrait With Bouffant 1961, ca. 1986, gelatin silver photograph, Pictures Collection, H99.223/1



Ian Kenins, The Fairfield Falcons celebrating a 198 point win over the Box Hill Mustangs, 2001, photograph, Pictures Collection, H2001.306/13


Ali Baba

Arthur H. Adams, [Ali Baba and the forty thieves. Libretto], Messrs. Williamson & Musgrove will have the pleasure of presenting their stupendous spectacular extravaganza, the forty thieves, Melbourne, Vic.: Troedel & Co., 1899, pamphlet, Rare Books Collection

Travel & leisure


Victorian Railways, Blonde woman wearing halter neck bathing costume, ca. 1940-ca. 1954, glass negative, Pictures Collection, H92.160/319