The following is a guest post by Ryan Brubacher, Reference Specialist, Prints & Photographs Division.
While chatting with a colleague some time ago, we realized our overlapping interest in finding faces in what the Prints & Photographs Division calls the HABS/HAER/HALS (Historic American Buildings Survey, Historic American Engineering Record, Historic American Landscapes Survey). She shared the photographs she was finding of buildings with facial features in a post last month, while I focused on the rare instances of actual people caught on camera in this collection, one that is notably devoid of humans in the frame. It is tricky to spot them, but ultimately thrilling when you do.
Staff who work on HABS/HAER/HALS surveys are the folks most frequently depicted. Whether appearing for scale or holding a scale device, they often show up in surveys of monumental structures. They usually attempt to be unobtrusive, but sometimes a sense of humor comes through, like these examples from the Lincoln Memorial survey.
This photo is a rare treat, as we see the photographer himself, Jet Lowe, taking the image with a shutter release in his right hand:
In addition to HABS/HAER/HALS staff, workers and laborers are depicted. Their presence often tells a story about how workspaces are used, like in these photographs of an ironworks facility:
Because people are rarely the focus of these images, I was delighted to find this view of beachgoers in Miami, where they are depicted front and center.
Another category I’ve been keeping tabs on is photographs that show children. A colleague at the National Park Service’s Heritage Documentation Programs office—which creates and manages the HABS/HAER/HALS surveys before they come to the Library of Congress—shares this interest. This selection has some favorites from both of us:
My very favorite photo in this category is the one below, because the human is so hard to find. Little ones show up in two more from this survey as well!
A cropped version of the photo above reveals the child’s hiding place!
- Photos from the Piaget-van Ravenswaay Collection, which are incorporated into early HABS surveys of Missouri, featured people more often than most images in HABS/HAER/HALS.
- The Lincoln Memorial survey includes over 200 photographs, including many shots with HABS staff in frame.
- Revisit other Picture This posts about HABS/HAER/HALS over the years.