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Great Photographs Make You Look Twice

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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.

Great Photos cover
Cover of new e-book features a photo of sculptor Gutzon Borglum inspecting work on Mt. Rushmore, S.D., in 1932.

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.

Table of contents for Great Photographs from the LIbrary of Congress

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.

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Comments (3)

  1. Thanks. The eye of the curator is so important — and it’s terrific to also hear the voice of the curator explaining your thought process. Brava!

  2. so I cruised on over to the press release only to find that “The e-book, which will be available for the iPad, ”
    will there be a version for Android tablets, kindles and nooks?
    will there be a hard copy published at a later date?

  3. Thanks for your inquiry! For now, Great Photographs from the Library of Congress is only available through iTunes and the iBookstore. There are currently no plans to produce a print version; the book was conceived as an ebook and strives to provide a comprehensive introduction to the Prints and Photograph Division’s online catalog, so the material is best showcased in a digital format. As technology for illustrated ebooks continues to develop and resources permit, we hope that ArtePublishing and the Library can make this wonderful material more widely available.

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