By RAQUEL MAYA
C. Ford Peatross, director of the Library’s Center for Architecture, Design and Engineering in the Prints and Photographs Division, was the first person at the Library of Congress that Carol Highsmith approached with her plan to follow in the footsteps of Frances Benjamin Johnston—to photograph the country and donate her work to the Library of Congress.
Peatross recalls Highsmith contacting him in the 1980s, not long after she finished documenting the restoration of the Willard Hotel.
“As soon as she got the idea from Frances Benjamin Johnston, she contacted me enthusiastically with her ambitious plan,” he said.
They immediately started working together to raise the funds that were needed to produce hard copies of Highsmith’s negatives.
Every photograph that Highsmith captures will be given to the Library in her lifetime. Her first set of donated photos included many of the embassies in Washington, D.C., and documentation of the restoration of Union Station.
“It is incredible that a photographer of Carol’s stature is willing to give away her work and allow others to use it,” says Peatross.
Jeremy Adamson, director for Collections and Services, was in the Prints and Photographs Division when Highsmith began working with the Library. An avid lover of architecture, Adamson appreciates the detail with which Highsmith shoots her photographs. He admires her passion and appreciation for architecture.
“She has an eye for things that other people would just glance over,” he said.
Blaine Marshall of the Library’s Publishing Office has worked with Highsmith for 10 years. Over the course of their working relationship, Marshall has come to admire Highsmith’s boundless energy and determination to document America. Marshall believes that she is a “one-of-a-kind” person who is always out there getting the best photos.
“We’re just lucky that we have her here. Her contribution to the Library is huge.”
In 1994, Highsmith worked with the Library to publish “The Library of Congress: America’s Memory.” Her current project with the Publishing Office is “On These Walls,” an updated version of a popular Library publication that features quotations on the walls of its three buildings.
“The hope is that we can do the whole book with only her photos,” Marshall said.
While the Library is very important to Highsmith as an architectural structure, it is equally important to her as a historical institution that can preserve and make available to the world the images she is working to capture.
“I’m very articulate when it comes to the Library of Congress because I believe in it,” she said.
During the past year, Highsmith has worked to capture images inside and outside the Thomas Jefferson Building for the new Library of Congress Experience scheduled to open in 2008.
“This is the first time that the building has been photographed professionally, systematically and in high definition,” said Peatross. “Carol has given us a tool to allow us to share the building’s glories with everyone.”
“Over the years, the Library has used many of Carol’s photographs to help make the Congress and the public more aware of the institution,” said Matt Raymond, the Library’s director of communications. “Her magnificent digital images will help us reintroduce the world to the Library’s glorious spaces in a new and captivating way.”
Highsmith is highly regarded among many at the Library of Congress, not only for her talent and eye for photography, but for her energy and enthusiasm for her work.
“The donation of her photographs is one of the greatest acts of generosity in the history of the Library,” said Peatross.
Raquel Maya is an intern in the Library’s Public Affairs Office.