The recent organization and cataloging of the more than 90,000 black-and-white and color images in the Congressional Quarterly Photograph Collection enables researchers to explore U.S. Congressional activities as well as a variety of governmental initiatives, policy issues, and Capitol Hill neighborhood doings. The photos date primarily from 1988 to 2005 and were created by photographers working for Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. This collection is a companion to the Roll Call Photograph Collection, which was cataloged a few years ago. Special resources provided by the arrearage reduction program made it possible to complete work on this large CQ Collection within a single year.
Becoming acquainted with a newly organized collection is like unwrapping a gift. The core team consisting of technicians, digital library specialists, an archivist and a cataloger, joined by curatorial and reference staff who consulted on the project, were gratified to see the depth and breadth of the images the team’s work brought to light. The collection has already proven a valuable resource for finding images of members of Congress and their staff from both sides of the aisle, often in the context of hearings, meetings, and public events. As processing technician, Jacob Stickann noted from his work with the collection, “It gives you an inside look at the workings of our government.”
The collection materials also give a feel for the work methods of a photojournalist, because you can see the many images taken in covering any given subject, although only a small selection were ever published. With some dedicated research, you can compare unpublished images to those that CQ Weekly published to get a sense of editorial practice at the publication. (Print copies of the publication are available in the Library’s periodical collections and an electronic version that covers 1983 to the present can be found at www.cq.com).
The format of the photos in the collection can help you see how photographers approached their subjects, providing insights on the goals and challenges of photographing governmental activities—or any activities, for that matter. That’s because you can see the full sequence of images photographers took. The majority of the collection consists of black-and-white negatives, which on-site researchers can look at in the form of contact sheets – entire rolls of 35 mm film contact printed on sheets of photographic paper.
Even more readily accessible are the digitized strips of color negatives. The reversal of colors and overall orange tint in color negatives makes them very hard to read in their original format. For example, what is blue in the real world appears as yellow in a color negative. An innovative use of a flatbed scanner made it possible to create ‘quick reference scans’ that represent the 5,100 strips of 35mm film in recognizable colors and provide legible access to that portion of the collection. What strikes me when I look at these still images is how the photographers’ practice of taking several pictures in quick succession offers an almost motion picture-like glimpse of actions and interactions in progress. We invite you to try this online viewing experience to see if it strikes you the same way.
Prints & Photographs Division Technical Services staff who worked closely with the CQ images to arrange, folder, and describe the contents of the collection have further insights to offer:
Processing technician Libby McKiernan commented on the variety of images that take you beyond committee rooms to rallies and interactions with constituents. She also expressed her surprise at seeing many celebrities turn up in the photos, often in the context of their work on issues before Congress.
The props featured at rallies and press conferences particularly caught the eyes of processing technician Michelle An, among them: a Trojan horse, a mock nuclear waste cask, and the national debt clock.
Cataloger Arden Alexander pointed out that issues of interest to Congress sometimes took the photographers outside DC, for instance to explore Broadband internet in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
Staff members also noted that the images sparked their curiosity and inspired them to further research. Jacob commented, “I found myself checking C-SPAN’s archive and the Congressional Record to identify people, committees, and legislation. The photos that stood out often led me to do further research. Why are airline employees holding an anti-ticket tax rally on the Capitol steps? Why is Elmo testifying before a House subcommittee?”
Similarly, Michelle commented that photos showing the U.S. Capitol subway operating underneath Capitol Hill inspired her to look back in time, as the subway began operation in 1909. CQ provided color images of the Capitol subway system that connects the Capitol to the Senate office buildings and one of the House office buildings. Our Harris & Ewing glass negatives include images from 1910, not long after the system became operational.
We began writing this post before Covid-19 became a household word in the U.S. But looking at CQ photographs also provides a reminder that we have faced challenging times before. Arden noted that the coverage from September 11th, 2001, focuses on circumstances in the D.C. area—including both watchfulness and solidarity on display.
We hope the availability of the CQ Collection photographs inspires researchers to reflect and ask new research questions, just as it did for the staff team that has worked so hard to enhance access to the collection.
- View the guide record for the CQ portion of the CQ/Roll Call collection — it summarizes the collection’s contents and points out related resources.
- To delve further: Have a look at descriptions for photographic prints sorted by subject matter, and descriptions for individual contact sheets – more than 4,400 of them! Some of the photographic prints and selected black-and-white negative frames have been digitized.
- Browse the digitized color negatives from the collection and see how many people you can identify!
- Read our earlier blog post about the Roll Call portion of the CQ/Roll Call collection: “Roll Call Photographs: Glimpsing Congress and Capitol Hill, 1988-2000.”