“Not an Ostrich”—Exhibition of Library of Congress Photos

The following is a guest post by Beverly Brannan, Curator of Photography; Adam Silvia, Associate Curator of Photography; and Helena Zinkham, Chief, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, California, has created a lively exhibition called “Not an Ostrich: And Other Images from America’s Library.” In support of the show, more than 300 digitized images are newly available online for everyone to see! An estimated 200 of the pictures are free to use and re-use. The selections come from the Prints and Photographs Division, home to one of the largest and most diverse photography collections in the United States.

“Each photograph exposes us to just a fraction of the millions of American stories held in the Library of Congress, from the iconic to the absurd,” said Annenberg Foundation Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO Wallis Annenberg. “Though cameras and technology have changed over the years, this exhibition shows us that nothing captures a moment, a time, or a story like a photograph.”

Not an ostrich - but the oddly plumed "Floradora Goose" displayed at the poultry show. A rare goose, decorated with fluffy un-gooselike feathers, being held by Miss Isla Bevan at the 41st annual Poultry Show at Madison Square Garden. It is called the Floradora Goose, and is a prizewinner. Photo, 1930. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.40935

Not an ostrich – but the oddly plumed “Floradora Goose” displayed at the poultry show. A rare goose, decorated with fluffy un-gooselike feathers, being held by Miss Isla Bevan at the 41st annual Poultry Show at Madison Square Garden. It is called the Floradora Goose, and is a prizewinner. Photo, 1930. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.40935

The title of the exhibit, “Not an Ostrich,” reminds us to ask—“What are we really looking at?” and also suggests the whimsical quality of many photographs in the show. Other photographs, however, provoke serious reflection on different cultures and social and environmental conditions.

Chinese Pharmacy, Los Angeles. Photo by Detroit Photographic Co., 1904, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.51094

Chinese Pharmacy, Los Angeles. Photo by Detroit Photographic Co., 1904, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.51094

Renowned photography curator Anne Wilkes Tucker worked closely with Library of Congress curators, reference librarians, catalogers, and digitization specialists for several years to identify engaging, surprising, and beautiful images. The resulting selections combine such Library icons as “Migrant Mother” and the earliest known photographic portrait made in the United States with new discoveries. More than one million pictures were online before this project began. But, with 15 million photographs in the collection typically described in groups of related images, the individual pictures can often feel uncataloged and unfindable. Browsing among the files and soliciting staff suggestions revealed many fascinating images to include in the exhibition.

It’s always a good idea to Ask A Librarian!

African Americans and white people posed on a porch. Photo by Richard Riley, 1903 or 1904. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp

African Americans and white people posed on a porch. Photo by Richard Riley, 1903 or 1904. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp

The exhibit includes a daguerreotype that dates all the way back to 1839, recently created digital photography, and everything in between, thus telling the history of photography in the United States as well as revealing dramatic moments in personal lives. The thematic sections highlight strengths of the collections: the Arts, Leisure, Sports, Built Environment, Business & Science, Civil Action, Daily Life, and Portraits. Selections from the Detroit Publishing Company, the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, and the Camilo J. Vergara Archive provide insight into changes in urban and rural America over time. A special section features photographers in action.

Arizona. Grand Canyon, photographer suspended on climber's rope, Photo by Kolb Bros., 1908. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.40892

Arizona. Grand Canyon, photographer suspended on climber’s rope. Photo by Kolb Bros., 1908. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.40892

A documentary movie made by the Annenberg Foundation will also be available. It includes interviews with several photographers, plus behind-the-scene views at the Library. Museumgoers on the West Coast can enjoy the exhibit in person from April 21 to September 9, 2018. Displaying primarily on large screens where the images change, the exhibit offers a chance to experience an eye-catching array of more than 400 pictures.

Learn More:

Advertising for "Not an Ostrich" exhibition, Los Angleles, California. Photo by Roswell Encina, April 18, 2018.

Advertising for “Not an Ostrich” exhibition, Los Angleles, California. Photo by Roswell Encina, April 18, 2018.

2 Comments

  1. Beverly Wright Coleman
    April 19, 2018 at 7:57 pm

    Thank you, Beverly Brannan, for this post. These photos evoke so many memories–one in particular. An elderly friend asked me to pick up a prescription for her in a Chinese Pharmacy on Grant Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown. She lived in China during World War II to be near her husband, who was an Admiral in the British Navy. She probably saw lots of Chinese pharmacies, but I had never seen anything like the store I visited that day. Your Chinese Pharmacy on Los Angeles brought back a pleasant memory.

  2. Jessamyn West
    April 23, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    Thank you so much for highlighting how much of the content in American’s Library is free for people to use and re-use. This was a fun blog post to read and I’m once again lost in the digital archives.

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