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This section features “first-ever” photographs, the Library’s most requested images, and iconic documentary and photojournalistic pictures, including Robert Cornelius’s 1839 “selfie” and the earliest-known portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman. Some of these iconic records have been continually published since they were taken; others were rediscovered having previously been lost to history. Dorothea Lange’s enduring portrait of Florence Owens Thompson, a destitute mother of seven children, has touched viewers since it was made in 1936. It is one of the most recognizable images in the Library’s collections. Gordon Parks’s portrait of Ella Watson addresses issues of racism by parodying another icon—Grant Wood’s painting of an American farm family.
The photograph of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight provokes our imagination to wonder what it was like to conceive and develop an operable airplane and become the first man to fly. Veterans might identify with the camaraderie between future president Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders after their victory at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Finally, there is the deadly violence captured by Murray Becker in the explosion and crash of the airship Hindenburg and the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by John Filo of Mary Ann Vecchio as she kneels over the body of Jeffrey Miller, fatally during a protest Kent State University. These last four photographs capture historical events but continue to engage audiences long after those events were news.