The following is a guest post by Helena Zinkham, Chief, Prints & Photographs Division.
Which photographs do you consider “great”?
I’d especially like to hear which images stand out in your mind’s eye, because I was recently challenged to define greatness for a new compilation of more than 700 fascinating pictures that represent the breadth and depth of the Library’s wonderful photo collections.
Cover of new e-book features a photo of sculptor Gutzon Borglum inspecting work on Mt. Rushmore, S.D., in 1932. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b11262
Aimee Hess Nash, a picture-minded editor in the Library’s Publishing Office, had a far harder job than mine. She made the difficult choices about which pictures to include in this e-book, organized them into categories for enjoyable browsing, and introduced the large collections where many more great photos can be found. Each image also links directly from the e-book to the Library’s website, so that you can learn more about the subject matter or collection context.
The press release summarized the content well: “Included are iconic photographs, such as Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’ and the Wright Brothers’ first successful airplane flight, as well as compelling historical images of people and places whose names have been lost or forgotten… A variety of themes and time periods are highlighted, from a turn-of-the-century color view of bustling activity on Constantinople’s Galata Bridge to a shot of the Hindenburg passenger airship in flames; from classic portraits of those who have changed the world—Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller and Babe Ruth among them—to illustrations of how world landscapes have changed since the dawn of photography.” (The press release includes a link to preview the book in the iTunes Store.)
P.S. Here’s my definition: A great photograph is one that makes you look twice. A dramatic subject matter or a striking composition catches your attention, and, instead of merely glancing at an image, you slow down and look more closely. As you are drawn into the image, you feel connected to the people or places depicted because they represent a common human experience. Or, the photographer has captured a moment in a way that inspires questions and makes you want to know more. You often want to keep a copy of a great photo handy so that you can look at it again and again.
Tomorrow many households in the U.S. will be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. Holidays–particularly food-centered ones–conjure up many personal associations. They also tend to inspire evocative pictures. Turkey in many shapes and forms predominate in the array of images that turn up when you search the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for “Thanksgiving.” But my family […]
It’s easy to relate to the first three words in the original caption for this photograph from the Harris & Ewing Collection: Initiative needed here. Whether it’s capturing a larger-than-life subject like the Capitol police officer below, or tackling the scanning and cataloging of thousands of fragile glass negatives, we can all agree that initiative […]
The gentleman with the long pipe and the colorful garments (right) points to a document. What is it? Take a closer look (below). It does not appear to be a letter or excerpt from a text. Some letters are recognizable as part of the Roman alphabet: I can see an A, an H, a J, […]
You may recall that last President’s Day, members of the public enjoyed a rare treat—and recorded it with their cameras. Twice each year, the Library of Congress offers a public open house in the Main Reading Room of the Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C. The space is not normally open to photographers, but cameras […]
Photographs of veterans number in the thousands within the collections of the Library of Congress. We can see the faces of veterans of wars fought in foreign lands and in our own backyards. We have photographs of veterans who fought in wars in the last century – and the one before that – as well […]
If every collection in the Prints and Photographs Division is an apple tree, full of tantalizing visual treats, then all of our holdings combined make for a vast orchard, ripe with possibility. My extended food metaphor is no accident, as we are launching a new monthly series here at Picture This entitled Feast Your Eyes. […]
As we near Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday on Oct. 27th, we have ongoing cause for celebration. A project to broaden access to images relating to Roosevelt’s life and times is putting new digital images and descriptions online each week. Last year, the project brought us illustrations from Puck magazine, including this visual jab at Roosevelt’s positive […]
How can one ever come to understand a collection of 170,000 pictures? If you read my post a few weeks ago about finding unprinted Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI) photographs, you probably quickly realized that the collection is complex, consisting of many interrelated parts. I hope you also got a sense of the […]
This September 1924 National Photo Company image of an auto house caught my eye not only because of the delight it sparked in seeing such a novel vehicle, but also because the lack of contextual information set me to wondering and wanting to know more. For example, assuming that the photo shows Mr. Harris and […]