Environmental issues affect everyone on planet Earth—the quality of the water and food we consume, the air we breathe, and the parks we enjoy. The Library of Congress actively acquires works of art relating to major social, political, and scientific matters and is a particularly rich resource of editorial cartoons and photography recording issues concerning the environment. The images selected for Down to Earth are among the Library's most compelling compositions because their creators intended to provoke reaction and inspire change.
Although the visual techniques used in photography and cartooning differ, both types of media are well suited to addressing such themes as the spread of toxins, water pollution, oil drilling, global warming, deforestation, exploitation of wetlands, and overconsumption. Sam Kittner's photographs vividly document the outrage of demonstrators in Louisiana over toxic waste dumping. Other images are more subtle—Olaf Otto Becker's beautiful image of a blue river in Greenland actually shows the effects of global warming and acid rain. Herblock's cartoons rely on humor, irony, and sarcasm to comment on pending legislation and competing interests.
The inspiration for Down to Earth comes from Herbert L. Block (1909–2001), commonly called Herblock, and his long-standing support for protecting the environment. A four-time Pulitzer Prize winner and chief editorial cartoonist at the Washington Post, Herblock produced cartoons about the environment throughout his seventy-two-year career. In 2002, the Herb Block Foundation donated more than 14,000 editorial cartoons—his life's work—to the Library of Congress.
The Library's photography collections have long documented the interaction of people with the landscape. This exhibition emphasizes recent acquisitions and selections from the Kent and Marcia Minichiello Collection of more than 350 contemporary environmental photographs, donated in 2001.
Down to Earth offers new perspectives with which to observe our planet. The juxtaposition of photography and cartooning, whether through the photographer's eye or Herblock's hand, reveals the artists' concern and passion for the environment.