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- About this Collection
- Access and Arrangement
- Background and Scope
- Selected Bibliography
- Digitizing the Collection
- Rights And Restrictions
- View an Image Sampler (slide show)
Some images are digitized | All jpegs/tiffs display outside Library of Congress | View All
Background and Scope
The online presentation of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive features photographs of landmark buildings and architectural renovation projects in Washington, D.C., and throughout the United States. The first 23 groups of photographs contain more than 2,500 images and date from 1980 to 2005, with many views in color as well as black-and-white. The archive is expected to grow to more than 100,000 photographs covering all of the United States.
Highsmith, a distinguished and richly published American photographer, has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. Starting in 2002, Highsmith provided scans or photographs she shot digitally with new donations to allow rapid online access throughout the world. Her generosity in dedicating the rights to the American people for copyright free access also makes this Archive a very special visual resource.
Born in 1946, Highsmith has photographed the American scene for more than twenty-five years. In most of her early work, Highsmith used Swiss-made 4x5" camera equipment. The large-format view camera captured the clarity, depth, and detail of her subjects in a way that other photographic media, until recently, could not. She relies on the latest technology to scan, store, and print her images and now uses the finest professional digital equipment for most projects.
Highsmith's first major books, both published in 1988, present extensive visual documentation of the rebuilding of Pennsylvania Avenue and the epic restoration of the Union Station train terminal in Washington, D.C. Her interest in revealing the splendors of historic architecture inspired two more books in 1994: one on the Library of Congress and one called America Restored, which documented two dramatic restoration projects in each U.S. state. In 1997, with her husband Ted Landphair, Highsmith launched two book series that would eventually total more than fifty titles. The large coffee-table books, such as New Orleans: A Photographic Tour, in the "Photographic Tour" series were followed by brief companion volumes in a "Pictorial Souvenir" series.
In 2000-2002, a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation allowed Highsmith to photographically study disadvantaged families in twenty-two cities where the foundation is active. Highsmith responded to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by issuing a book of her World Trade Center photos. She also captured reactions to the crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, which are in the Library's September 11th Archive [ view examples].
Examples of recent commissions include assignments from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Park Service, Urban Land Institute, American Institute of Architects, National Geographic Society, and General Services Administration. Highsmith has mounted several Web sites that feature her work, including CarolHighsmithAmerica.com, which includes a portfolio of her work. The Selected Bibliography conveys the full scope of Highsmith's photographic career.
Inspiration and Vision
Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952), one of the first American women to achieve prominence as a photographer, documented historic buildings, southern plantations, mining camps, African-American schools, and city scenes at the turn of the 20th century before donating her archive to the Library of Congress (see Frances Benjamin Johnson collection information). Inspired by Johnston's commitment to preserving a vanishing world through photographs – an inspiration first kindled when she followed Johnston's photographic footprints while recording what were thought to be the last days of Washington's historic Willard Hotel – Carol Highsmith has described her sense of urgency in documenting aspects of American life that are disappearing, such as barns, lighthouses, motor courts, and eclectic roadside art. Highsmith and Johnston's work at the "Hotel of Presidents" became the subject of a four-month exhibit, "Two Windows on the Willard," at the Octagon Museum in Washington, 2006-2007.
Beyond structures and landscapes, she is also interested in Americans at work and play. "It's been a dream job to showcase America – putting it on film for future generations," Highsmith explained in a 2004 television interview. She added that her desire to photograph America and her people "is in my soul." It forces her to go out every day and document the land she loves and to know that years from now someone will look at her images and appreciate what she has done to preserve American life – at least on film. (For more on the life and work of Highsmith, see the Wikipedia page Carol M. Highsmith.)