Witness and Response: September 11 Acquisitions at the Library of Congress

Montage of images from the Prints and Photographs DivisionDuring the past year, the curators of the Prints and Photographs Division have been engaged in an intense and highly focused campaign to collect a broad range of pictorial images that both factually document and creatively interpret the terrible events of September 11, 2001. The division’s goal was to build a visual archive that, spanning all collection formats, would, for posterity’s sake, accurately represent the nature and scope of artistic expressions prompted by the terrorist attacks on America.

These acquisitions reveal not only the wide-ranging approaches taken by creative individuals to documenting and interpreting the events that occurred on September 11, 2001, and the feelings they aroused, but the commitment of the curatorial staff in ensuring that such works remain a vital component of the historical record preserved in the Library of Congress. Looking back, the Division’s still-growing 9/11 archive is not unlike the great collection of Depression-era Farm Security Administration photographs that captured the strength and resilience of the American people in times of duress.


Photographer Carol Highsmith unexpectedly donated to the Library a stunning panoramic photograph she took of lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center from a helicopter on a clear day in early August 2001. Highsmith also put the Prints and Photographs Division in touch with company officials in charge of recycling the steel from ground zero. For the Library's exhibition, they specially saved the last burned and crushed fragments of structural steel and metal cladding from the World Trade Center. A strong supporter of the Library, the energetic photographer also helped to arrange for another gift--a piece of limestone torn from the Pentagon. On display in the exhibition, these artifacts are tangible records of the physical devastation suffered on September 11, 2001.

Carol M. Highsmith. [Manhattan skyline], August 2001. Color digital print, reproduced by permission of the artist. Gift of the artist. Prints and Photographs Division (275)

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