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Collection Highsmith (Carol M.) Archive

About this Collection

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. Extensive coverage of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building was added in 2007. The archive is expected to grow to more than 100,000 photographs covering all of the United States.

Background and Scope

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.

The collection donors include:

Alabama (George F. Landegger) -- View the photographs

Arizona (Barbara Barrett) -- View the photographs

California (The Capital Group Companies Charitable Foundation in memory of Jon B. Lovelace) -- View the photographs

Colorado (Gates Frontiers Fund) -- View the photographs

Connecticut (George F. Landegger) -- View the photographs

Pennsylvania (The Pew Charitable Trusts) -- View the photographs

Texas (funded by the Lyda Hill Foundation Fund) -- View the photographs

Wyoming (funded by the Gates Frontiers Fund) -- View the photographs


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.

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 External, 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 External.)

Access and Arrangement

Digital Scans and Photographic Prints Arranged in Groups (LOTs)

The Highsmith Archive consists of negatives and transparencies available for viewing as either digital scans or photographic prints, as well as photographs Highsmith made digitally and that exist only as digital files . Preservation considerations prevent public users from directly handling the negatives and transparencies, which are kept in cold storage.

The photographer, Carol Highsmith, organized her images by subject matter in groups (called LOTs). The Library created catalog records that summarize each group of closely related views and link to sets of any available online images. The searchable catalog record describes the following characteristics of each LOT.

  • the photographic media represented in the group
  • when the photographs were made
  • subjects depicted
  • additional notes about the group.

LOTs That Include Digital Scans

LOTs received since 2002 include scans Carol Highsmith created for ready online viewing of the photographs or the photographs she shot digitally.

  • In some cases, such as Highsmith's extensive documentation of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building, the items in the LOTs can be searched and retrieved individually. Retrieve individual items
  • In other cases, the digital images associated with a LOT cannot be searched individually, but are, instead, retrieved by selecting the "Click for more images" icon at the top of the catalog record describing the LOT. (While the catalog searches words in the body of the LOT catalog record, the catalog does not search words or item numbers found in captions for individual images within the LOT. Key terms from the captions are indexed in the LOT record.)

sample catalog record with icon

Selecting "Click for more images" generates a display in a new window of all the individual images in the LOT, along with:

  • the caption associated with the image (supplied by the photographer)
  • a digital reproduction number
  • a negative or transparency number.
First row of "click for more images" display for LOT 13556, Photographs of the renovation of the Lincoln Memorial

Retrieve Highsmith LOT records with digital scans

LOTs That Do Not Include Digital Scans

Photographic prints provide access to the images in these six LOTs, which the Library received in 1992. Request the LOT in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room.

Individually Described Images Not in Groups

Most of the images Carol M. Highsmith produced with a digital camera are individually described and are not gathered into groups (LOTS).

Determining Format and Size of Originals

Format and size information can be helpful in planning photoduplication requests (see the Photoduplication Service's price list) and serves as an indication of the type of equipment used to make an image. To determine the format and size of the original photographs, look at the series codes--the letters and numbers appearing at the beginning of the reproduction numbers assigned to individual photographs by the Library. The series code appears in each digital scan caption or is written on the back of a print. (Note: The digitally scanned images represent the way the photographer interpreted her negatives and transparencies, so prints ordered from the negatives and transparencies may vary from the scans that display in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.)

Series Code (appears at the beginning of a reproduction number) Format/size
LC-HS502 5 x 7 in. color transparencies
LC-HS503 4 x 5 in. color transparencies
LC-HS504 8 x 10 in. color transparencies
LC-HS505 35 mm or 120 unmounted slides
LC-HS507 35 mm or 120 mounted slides
LC-HS512 5 x 7 in. black-and-white negatives
LC-HS513 4 x 5 in. black-and-white negatives
LC-HS514 8 x 10 in. black-and-white negatives
LC-HS515 35 mm or 120 black-and-white negatives
LC-HS542 5 x 7 in. color negatives
LC-HS543 4 x 5 in. color negatives
LC-HS544 8 x 10 in. color negatives
LC-HS545 35 mm or 120 color negatives