Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Library of Congress Photograph Collection

( Marion Post Wolcott 1940)

For anyone who is at all interested in photography, the photographic collection of the Library of Congress is a treasure trove.

(Walker Evans)

It's my belief that anyone who wants to call themselves a photographer should have at least a passing knowledge of the history of photography.

(Carleton Watkins)

The Library of Congress collection provides a way to have a bit of fun exploring some of the history (mainly, but not only N. American) - from the early days of the medium itself, right through to close to the present day. Finding the work of not just some of the well known names from photography's past - Dorothea Lange, Roger Fenton, Matthew Brady, Fox Talbot, Atget, Walker Evans, Steichen, Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Muybridge, Carlton Watkins and many many more, but also lots of "vernacular" photography as well - photographs of the gold rush town of Deadwood or panoramics of bathing beauties.

(Charleston, SC)

Not only that, but a good chunk of the collection is digitised - and in many cases the scans and files available are quite high resolution. Not every digital file has a hi-res version, but many do. This means that you can often download a favourite or interesting photograph, work on it in photoshop and print up a very presentable 11x14, say, to put on your wall (I have a number of such Walker Evans prints around the house) - oh and you can also order good old fashioned prints too.

(Dorothea Lange)

In addition to the main online catalogue, there are also a number of selected collection in the American Memory site - thousands of photographs from the Farm Security Administration photographers (including a number in colour), Ansel Adams at the Manzanar Interment Camp, Civil War Images, Civil War - Brady Studio, the jazz photographs of WIlliam Gottlieb or Panoramic Photographs - to list just a few

(Lewis Payne - one of Lincon's assassins)

There also the amazing catalogue of Prokudin-Gorskii's tri-colour process images from turn of the 19th/20th Century Russia - the photographer to the Tsar.

(The Emir of Bukhara by Prokudin-Gorskii)

Now the interface in places is mildly clunky - mainly because they have been working on the digitisation and access programme for a probably 15 years at least and much of this was done before some of the main digital asset management systems came into being - but they are all workable (for example, when searching the main print and photograph catalogue, always be sure to click on "Preview Images" or you just get a text list).

(Stieglitz by Gertrube Kasebier)

My experience has been that I go there to look for one thing and end up browsing around and finding all sorts of other stuff as well.


Unknown said...

and there is also the photoblog which i think is run by someone who works at the archives and posts delicious historical photos from the loc and other sources, many available as fine art prints, in case you don't want to do the ps work yourself. put it on your reader and you'll get 1-8 postings of beautiful vintage pictures/day.

tim atherton said...

Yes, I'd forgotten Shorpy

I used to subscribe, but i got so many posts i didn't have time to look at them... maybe i'll do it again as there was some fascinating stuff

Jeff Stevens said...

I've been printing a bunch of Matthew Brady's civil war photographs that were taken in the area I live in. Being under 1/2 hour from Gettysburg, Antietam, Monocacy, Frederick, and Sharpsburg, I have found tons of photos taken in during the civil war that were taking in the area I am from. Plus since the negs are from an 8x10 camera, the scans are huge.

Helena said...

It's great to hear your interest in the Library's photos! Thanks for helping to spread the word about these wonderful historical collections.

Helena Zinkham
Acting Chief, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress