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.
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.
- Nash, Aimee Hess, editor. Great Photographs from the Library of Congress. New York: Arte Publishing, with the Library of Congress, 2013.
- Press release, http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2013/13-191.html
- View our bibliography of publications about Prints and Photographs Division collections.