Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on June 19, 2021.
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The Photo Antiquities Museum on East Ohio Street in the North Side is the kind of place you'd pass by and not give a second thought.
We've known about this one for several years, but kept forgetting about it until we made visiting all of Pittsburgh's attractions a priority for this site. As we slowly made our way through our list, the Photo Antiquities Museum kept popping up time and again. And although I love photography much more than the average person, for some reason it always got pushed back on our schedule just as it had before.
I say this as the introduction to this review to emphasize a very important point: we made a mistake waiting so long to visit.
This museum is incredible, and you do not have to be photography crazy like me to think the same.
A Rare Look Into the History of Photography
In many cases, you head to a museum to look at photos for their content. In fact, just about every museum in the world is set up under the premise that the image itself is much more important than the medium it is on.
But at the Photo Antiquities Museum in the North Side, you actually visit for the photograph itself.
The reason for this is because the two-hour tour of the museum highlights the history of photography with a focus on how the medium and technology has changed all the way from the mid-1800s to modern day. So while you may be looking at some of the oldest portraits ever taken, the true highlight is the description of how the photography process has evolved over time. The feature of the photograph itself is just an added bonus.
To highlight how things have evolved over the years, the museum shows off over 3,000 historical cameras which really helps bring the history of photography together in a way you've never considered before.
But What About the Content of the Photos?
Okay, okay, I could talk about the photography process all day and not get bored, but what if you do actually care about the content of the photos? Well, you could also visit this museum just to see the historical images themselves (without a care in the world about how they were taken), as they have some true gems you've never seen before.
They're not the highlight, but they can also stand up to any other photography museum out there which is truly saying something.
There are collections of civil war generals as well as Abraham Lincoln (and a new Abraham Lincoln feature will be coming out shortly that we're really excited about), historical photos from Pittsburgh (including rare photos of the Strip District's shantytown from the Great Depression- yes, we had one and no one ever talks about it!), and several other rotating exhibits taking on various themes, local and otherwise.
The museum even has a few interactive pieces from 100+ years ago that help shed some light on just how revolutionary photography was when it was first introduced, and gives us a bit of reason to appreciate just how far we've come to where nearly everyone in the world can have a powerful camera right in their pocket.
Check Out the Limited Run Exhibits Too
In 2017, the Photo Antiquities Museum expanded to add a space for limited run photography shows on the first floor. The first exhibit of this new space opened in July of the same year and featured the largest collection of Abraham Lincoln photos ever assembled!
Going beyond the photos, which number about 200 in total, the exhibit also featured a chronology of Lincoln's life and has many other items of historical significance- making this one of the most impressive Lincoln collections you'll ever see. Subsequent shows after this one were just as impressive in their depth of covering the topic, so you'll do well to ask if one is open when visiting.
It is worth noting, however, that the limited run exhibits are typically run on a separate ticket from the main photography museum. Visitors should note if they want to see the main museum, any special exhibit (if present), or both when visiting so the owners (who are also the guides) can arrange tours properly.
Overall, the Photo Antiquities Museum is a true gem in Pittsburgh's North Side, and its collection joins the likes of Randyland, Bicycle Heaven, and Johnny Angel's as being a must-see in the neighborhood.
Do yourself a favor and schedule a tour of this one soon!
We'd like to thank the Photo Antiquities Museum for allowing us to take photos of the museum for this article. Tours are available most days (excluding Tuesdays and Sundays), but requires advanced reservations. As noted above, be sure to tell them if you want to see the main museum, the special exhibits, or both.
The Photo Antiquities Museum is located at 531 East Ohio Street in the North Side.
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