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August 11, 2010
Photographer Carol Highsmith Launches 21st-Century America Project
Alabama Photos Now Available on Prints and Photographs Online Catalog
The cities, towns and countryside of 21st-century America, and the life of its people, are being documented by distinguished photographer Carol M. Highsmith, who is donating her photographs copyright-free to the Library of Congress to ensure worldwide access and preservation.
Highsmith will photograph the country, state by state, completing the project in approximately 16 years. Her first state, Alabama, was photographed earlier this year, and those photos can be viewed in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog at www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/highsm/. Currently, during summer 2010, Highsmith is photographing Washington, D.C.
Captured with high-resolution digital cameras, the photographs will be archived and maintained by the Library of Congress. The body of work will be easily accessible and downloadable to the public via the Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Under the Library’s care, Highsmith’s 21st-Century America photos will live on for generations to come.
"The acquisition of Carol Highsmith’s 21st-Century America archive is a top priority for the Library of Congress. Her color images are certainly of the highest technical and artistic quality. But more importantly, she has the uncanny ability to identify, focus on and capture for posterity the essential features of our social landscape and physical environment, both natural and man-made," said Jeremy Adamson, director of Collections and Services at the Library.
"A photograph by Carol Highsmith is a document of rare precision and beauty, revealing with exacting clarity the look and feel of people and places across our great nation," Adamson said.
Earlier this year, Highsmith spent four months photographing Alabama, in cities large and small. She focused on a wide variety of subjects, including parades, festivals, fishing boats, rattlesnake rodeos, schools, churches, landscapes and buildings. "I had no dictate, so I photographed everything, from the very, very mundane to the important and amazingly historic," Highsmith said.
The Alabama project was made possible by funding from philanthropist George F. Landegger, chairman of Parsons & Whittemore, one of the largest producers of market pulp, the raw material used in papermaking. The Alabama photos will be called the George F. Landegger Alabama Collection in the Library’s Carol M. Highsmith Archive. Landegger is also funding Highsmith’s photo shoot of Washington, D.C. this summer.
Highsmith will continue to seek private funding to support the 21st-Century America project. She hopes to find donors in every state.
Highsmith’s artistic inspiration is Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952), one of the first American women to achieve prominence as a photographer. Johnston conducted a photographic survey of the South at the turn of the 20th century, which started with funding from the Carnegie Corp. foundation. Johnston also donated her photographs to the Library of Congress.
Photography was an avocation for Highsmith until 1981 when she was hired by developer Oliver Carr as the official photographer for the reconstruction of the historic Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. During the past 30 years, Highsmith has documented American architecture and life. In 1992, she began donating her photographs, copyright-free, to the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division holds approximately 14.4 million photographs, drawings and prints from the 15th century to the present day. International in scope, these visual collections represent a uniquely rich fund of human experience, knowledge, creativity and achievement, touching on almost every realm of endeavor: science, art, invention, government and political struggle, and history. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/rr/print/.
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