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Many photographs in the Library of Congress focus on social and political issues including rich collections documenting the quest for civil rights. Some of the collection’s photographers addressed social epidemics such as drug abuse and poverty, hoping to raise public awareness and instigate corrective action. For instance, Donna Ferrato’s series on domestic violence played an important role in Congress passing the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. Other photographers focused less on society’s ills and more on its sweeter moments. These images range from a messenger riding a big wheel bicycle down the steps of the U.S. Capitol to Susana Raab’s Chicken in Love, which depicts a woman holding hands with someone in a chicken suit. The Library also has a rich representation of photographs related to religions and beliefs, including a nineteenth-century faith healer, Apache devil dancers, Catholic nuns, Protestant evangelists, and Muslims.
The Library has vast photographic documentation on military life since the Civil War. For example in this exhibition, different aspects of the military are represented by a portrait of an African American soldier and his family made during the Civil War, a photo of 21,000 men who stood together to create a giant portrait of President Woodrow Wilson, veterans sleeping rough near the nation’s Capitol the night before their protest march down Pennsylvania Avenue, and images of civilian life for veterans who were severely injured in Afghanistan and Iraq.