Portfolio 1: An American GalleryThe drawings, prints, and photographs preserved in the Library's collections constitute a composite picture of the life and peoples of the United States, a picture of extraordinary richness, diversity, and nuance. During the last two centuries American draftsmen and photographers have observed their contemporaries, taking in the famous and the obscure alike and portraying the full spectrum of the American identity. These artists' works capture more than mere appearances. They convey the values, concerns, spirit, and ways of life of their subjects as well. Today the Library's large archives of the work of portrait photographers Mathew Brady and Arnold Genthe, the extensive record of American life in the photographs of the Farm Security Administration, and such other documentary holdings as Lewis Hine's photographs for the National Child Labor Committee and the pictorial files of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) constitute a wealth of primary evidence for historians of material culture and social history.
Rubens Smith. Design for a 'Certificate issued by the Philadelphia
Association for the Relief of Disabled Firemen'. Watercolor
and graphite on wove paper. Circa 1830.
A versatile figure in the American art community during the first half
of the nineteenth century, John Rubens Smith was an accomplished painter,
an experienced printmaker, and a leading educator during a formative
period in the development of American art. His many drawings of American
scenes and people combine a high standard of draftsmanship and a fidelity
to actual appearances remarkable for their time. Smith's drawing for
a benevolent society certificate contains a wealth of rare detail on
American firefighting technology and equipment during the Jacksonian
period, from the elegantly functional pumpers to the colorful uniforms
of the engine companies. (John Rubens Smith Collection. Gift of the Madison
Council and Mrs. Joseph Carson)
B. Brady. Horace Greeley. Half-plate daguerreotype,
The feisty and eccentric New York editor Horace Greeley, known for
his directive, "Go West, young man," personified the ebullient spirit
of American Republican politics in the 1850s. In his hobnail boots, long
coat, and stove-pipe hat, Greeley was a fixture of the New York scene.
Brady made a career of photographing such public figures (for the exorbitant
sum of three to five dollars apiece), and he displayed these portraits
in his fashionable gallery at Broadway and Fulton Streets. "From the
first, " Brady professed, "I regarded myself as under obligation to my
country to preserve the faces of the historic men and mothers." This
work is from an archive of over 300 Brady Studio daguerreotypes acquired
by the Library in 1920. (Transfer, U.S. Army War College)
Seamstress. Sixth-plate daguerreotype, circa 1853.
The unidentified subject of this daguerreotype sits behind an industrial
model Grover and Baker sewing machine. Whether originally produced as
a promotion for the machine’s manufacturer, an illustration of
the clothing industry at the time, or a portrait of a proud seamstress
displaying the tools of her trade, this daguerreotype is one of the few
surviving visual documents of working women in the United States before
the Civil War.
Genthe. Street of Gamblers. Toned gelatin silver print,
Arnold Genthe's photographic studies of the people and streets of San Francisco's Chinatown before the earthquake of 1906 reveal something about Asian-American life and contemporary attitudes toward this immigrant group at the turn of the century. Emigration of the Chinese to the West Coast of the United States accelerated rapidly in the waning years of the nineteenth century. The Chinese were driven by the violence and hardships of the Opium Wars to the relatively safe haven and available employment offered by California. Genthe focused on the insular aspects of Chinatown life, eliminating by deft retouching of his negatives the telegraph lines and other signs of western technology. Genthe's studio archive of negatives and prints was acquired by the Library of Congress shortly after the photographer's death.
S. Curtis. Shows as He Goes. Gelatin silver print,
From 1906 to 1927 Curtis traversed the western United States and British
Columbia, studying and photographing the vanishing native American peoples
and their many cultures. His project, largely financed by J. Pierpont
Morgan, resulted in a monumental twenty-volume opus The North American
Indian, which was illustrated with 1,500 photogravures. The Library owns
a complete copy of this work, as well as an estimated 2,800 of Curtis's
photographs. (Transfer, U.S.
Käsebier. The Red Man. Platinum print. Negative
produced around 1900.
Unlike Edward Curtis, who methodically sought to record the dress,
life, and customs of native Americans, Gertrude Käsebier photographed
only a few Indians, Sioux members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West troupe
whom she invited to pose in her New York studio. Käsebier was the
finest portraitist of the American Pictorialist School, and in The Red
Man her mastery of her idiom draws forth from the subject a strong psychological
presence, at once imposing and reserved. (Gift of the photographer)
Hine. Shrimp and Oyster Worker, Biloxi, Miss. February 1911.
Gelatin silver print.
Manuel, the five-year-old shrimp-picker shown here, spoke no English.
At the time this photograph was taken, he had already worked for a year
in this tedious and hazardous occupation. The abusive child labor practices
of industry in pre-World War I America were the targets of the National
Child Labor Committee, and photographer Lewis Hine was one of the committee's
greatest publicists. For fifteen years he crisscrossed the United States
documenting the practices of the worst offenders. The Library holds the
papers of the National
Child Labor Committee, including the reports, field notes, correspondence,
and over 5,000 of Hine's photographs and negatives. (Gift of the
National Child Labor Committee, in honor of the committee's fiftieth
Shahn. Years of Dust. Color lithograph poster, 1936.
A distinguished painter, illustrator, and photographer, Ben Shahn designed
only a few posters during his long career. Years of Dust, produced for
the Resettlement Administration (which later became the Farm
Security Administration), is believed to have been his first. In
conveying a sense of the despair of the impoverished Dust Bowl farmer,
Shahn's poster was an apt piece of propaganda for the agency, which strove
to ease the hardships of the American agricultural community.
Van Vechten. Zora Neale Hurston. Gelatin silver print.
Now called the "literary grandmother" to black women writers, author
and anthropologist Zora
Neale Hurston was a major figure in the Harlem Renaisance of the
1920s and 1930s. Carl Van Vechten's portrait was taken the year after
Hurston's most important novel, the folk romance Their Eyes Were Watching
God, was published. Van
Vechten, a writer and critic as well as an amateur photographer,
was known as the "chronicler of Manhattan" and became an effective advocate
of African-American music and letters. He bequeathed to the Library of
Congress an archive of approximately 1,400 photographs of the artists,
literati, and other celebrities of the period, from Josephine Baker to
William Faulkner. (Gift of the photographer's estate)
Lee. Buck Dancers at a Square Dance, Pie Town, New Mexico, June
1940. Gelatin silver print.
The photographic record of everyday life produced under the Farm
Security Administration during the Great Depression succeeded in
generating support for New Deal economic and social programs and became
a cornerstone of modern America documentary photography. (Transfer, Office
of War Information)
Adams. Toyo Miyatake. Gelatin silver print, 1943.
Under the Civilian Exclusion Order of 1942 over 100,000 western seaboard
residents of Japanese descent were evacuated from their homes and relocated
in internment camps in the interior. The order was conceived by the U.S.
government during the hysteria following the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor, in an effort to prevent sabotage of America's war effort. Toyo
Miyatake, a Japanese photographer who was interned at the Manzanar camp,
was photographed by Ansel Adams, who visited Manzanar at the invitation
of the camp's director. Adams's visit resulted in the famous landscapist's
only photo essay, the book Born Free and Equal (1944). Two
copies were sent to Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Secretary of the Interior
Harold Ickes, as part of the secretary's campaign to end the internments.
Copies of the book were burned in protest by a public largely unreceptive
to the idea of Japanese innocence. To safeguard the record for better
times, Adams then deposited his Manzanar negatives in the Library of
Congress. (Gift of the photographer)
Richard Avedon. The Chicago Seven. Gelatin silver print, 1969. (Not currently available due to copyright restrictions.)
Esteemed in both the art and commercial worlds, Richard Avedon photographed
the Chicago Seven defendants during their tumultuous and protracted trial
for the disruption of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
The defendants were charged with conspiracy for their part in the antiwar
demonstrations staged at the convention. The subjects are, from left:
Abbie Hoffman, Lee Weiner, John Froines, Rennie Davis, Jerry Rubin, Tom
Hayden, and David Dellinger.