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OHIO alum and distinguished photographer Thomas Schiff donates personal collection to University Libraries

Acclaimed photographer and businessman, Thomas R. Schiff, captures stunning views of architecture across the U.S. through his iconic Hulcherma 360 panoramic camera which takes a unique angle on photography by encapsulating a full 360-degree image. His images include broad cityscapes, city halls, movie theaters, art museums, religious sites and more. Schiff is also the co-founder of the non-profit FotoFocus, which was created to celebrate and champion photography and lens-based art. Ohio University Libraries will now be the permanent home to more than 2,000 of those works that were generously donated by the photographer and alum himself.

Schiff has been interested in photography ever since his childhood when an early interest was sparked in elementary school. He had gotten a Kodak Brownie camera and later set up a dark room in his basement at around 11 years old before taking pictures for his high school yearbook and newspaper. In 1970, Schiff graduated from Ohio University’s College of Business with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and a minor in Fine Art, which enabled him to continue pursuing his passion for photography.

As technology and cameras advanced, Schiff decided to move away from the conventional black and white negatives in 1994 and instead changed to the Hulcherma 360 camera, mastering the panoramic photographs that he’s known for today. Schiff mentioned that he had already been photographing city scenes and architecture for a while and felt that he needed to change things up a little bit with something different. It was at that point that he had begun getting into panoramic and color photography.

Since 1999, Schiff has published 14 books, each demonstrating the intersection between his interest in the history of architecture and love for photography. While the books often explore a theme or location, Schiff dedicated two books to exploring the work of a single architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

“I ended up visiting over 100 buildings by Wright around the country and photographed them,” Schiff said. “I had two books. One is a book of photos from around the country titled, ‘Wright Panorama’, and the other book, ‘Wright in Ohio,’ showcases…11 Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Ohio.”

Currently, Schiff is working on a project for 2026 celebrating America’s 250th  anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Civic buildings, city halls, the U.S. Capitol building, the U.S. Supreme Court and other significant pieces of architecture will be included in the project.

Schiff’s colorful panoramic photography captures stunning and extraordinary architectural views that offer a new way of seeing the built environment. The donation to University Libraries comprises of approximately 2,000 of his panoramic color prints measuring about three to six feet in length, 200 black and white prints, born-digital archival material and correspondence. His collection represents his published work including books, photographic prints, digital image files as well as unreleased photographs.

Schiff’s work will be a part of the Documentary Photography Archive within the Libraries’ Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections. The archive currently is made up of four different collections with Schiff’s donation being the fifth and newest addition. Other photographers featured in the archive include: Lynn Johnson, world-renown photojournalist and Ohio University Knight Fellow of ‘04, Peter L. Goss, an OHIO alum of ‘73 who took photos of Ohio University and the surrounding area from 1966-1970, Lloyd E. Moore, a lawyer and photographer of the Southeast Ohio region and Leonard “Len” Vaughn-Lahman, a photojournalist known for his work covering the environment, immigration and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September, 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The collections in the Documentary Photography Archive, including Schiff’s new donation, are available for anyone to view and use for research. Laura Smith, photo archivist and the curator of the collection, mentioned that Schiff’s works will benefit teaching and learning at Ohio University as well as researchers worldwide.

“For the OHIO community, I think there’s a lot of exciting opportunities to incorporate these photographs in the curriculum and classwork that include anything from the photographic technique and process…to the film photography to the digitized versions, as well as studying the subjects of the photographs,” Smith said.

Schiff has always had close ties and love for his alma mater. In 2009, Schiff photographed the exterior of Alden Library in the memorable piece entitled, “Vernon R. Alden Library, Panoramic Photograph,” which was also the three-millionth addition to Ohio University Libraries that was unveiled at Alden Library’s 40th anniversary celebration. Additional interior images from that time period are also currently on display inside the Library nearly 15 years later.

Alden Panorama
“Vernon R. Alden Library, Panoramic Photograph,” by Thomas R. Schiff.

The strong connection and bond that Schiff has with OHIO has enabled the Libraries to steward the extensive collection. Schiff mentioned wanting a safe environment to house his photos and a place where others can enjoy them. University Libraries is honored to be the place to make those things happen.

“It's a great opportunity for…my collection to be cared for under such superior circumstances,” Schiff said. “The archives of Ohio University Libraries will do a terrific job of keeping them in shape.”

Neil Romanosky, dean of University Libraries, is thrilled and honored that Schiff is donating such a large portion of his collection to University Libraries.

“I am also grateful for Schiff’s generosity in supporting the ongoing work and infrastructure that will enable the Libraries to make this collection available to students and researchers for generations to come,” Romanosky said. “Through his own photographic work and that of FotoFocus, Mr. Schiff has done much to advance engagement with lens-based art. This is a truly wonderful addition to the Libraries’ Documentary Photography Archive.”

For more information about the Thomas R. Schiff collection, please contact Laura Smith, photo archivist.

August 8, 2023
Mimi Calhoun