Compelling images of children from all over the world, spanning the history of photography from daguerreotype to documentary, are the subject of the Library of Congress' exhibition titled "When They Were Young: A Photographic Retrospective of Childhood," now on view at the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building. The exhibition marks the publication of a companion book published by the Library of Congress in association with Kales Press. The exhibition is also available on the Library's Web site at www.loc.gov/exhibits/young.
"We are pleased to present this collection of touching and timeless images of children from the Library's unparalleled collection of more than 125 million items," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "Each image reveals a component of the experience of childhood and invites us to see the surrounding world through the eyes of a child."
The book and exhibition examine the experience of childhood connected across time, different cultures, and diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The book's poignant narrative written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and child psychologist Robert Coles is a tribute to the hope and despair, grace and indignity, and playfulness and burden of childhood.
Nubian children romp in the rapids of the Nile at the turn of the last century; Amish children pose stoically for a photo in 1953; and Tad Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, wears a Union soldier's uniform for the Civil War-era camera. In these images and many others of children from Alaska to Turkey, eyes reveal the gravity of childhood, the anticipation of growing up and the power of play, such as the photo by Carl Mydans of boys playing cards near Washington's Union Station in 1935. Coles' accompanying words ring true that, "…we quickly become as attentive as the youngsters attending ever so watchfully their cards."
The images also document the history of photography, as different techniques spanning more than 100 years are represented, including daguerreotypes from the 19th century, gum bichromate prints from the turn of the last century, and gelatin silver prints dating from 1891 to 1968.
The photographs are drawn from the peerless collection of the Library's Prints and Photographs Division and includes prints by Edward Steichen, one of the most influential and prominent figures in 20th-century photography; celebrated photographer of native peoples Edward Curtis; Toni Frissell, whose distinguished career spanned 40 years and included formal and informal portraits of the famous and powerful in the United States and Europe; Lewis Hine, who documented working and living conditions of children in the United States between 1908 and 1921; noted folklorist Alan Lomax; and photographs taken in Europe during WWII.
There are also photographs from the Library's Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection (FSA-OWI) in which works by well-known photographers Jack Delano, Mary Post Wollcott, Russell Lee, Carl Mydans, John Vanchon, Gordon Parks, and Dorothea Lange appear. Comprising more than 165,000 photographs, the collection is an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944 and is considered a landmark in the history of documentary photography.
Robert Coles is a world-renowned child psychiatrist and best-selling author. He has published more than 1,400 articles and 60 books, including the five-volume "Children of Crisis," "The Spiritual Life of Children," and "The Moral Intelligence of Children." He was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize (1973), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1998) and the American Psychiatric Association Distinguished Service Award (2000). He is currently a research psychiatrist for the Harvard University Health Services and professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at the Harvard Medical School.
"When They Were Young: A Photographic Retrospective of Childhood from the Library of Congress," a 160-page hardcover book with 78 full-page, tritone photographs, is available for $39.95 in bookstores nationwide and the Library's Sales Shop, telephone 888-682-3557.
The related exhibition, featuring 68 photos selected from the Library of Congress' Prints and Photographs Division, opened Sept. 26 in the South Gallery of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building and can be seen Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., through March 22, 2003.