January 7, 2015 Library of Congress Acquires Archive of Top Documentary Photographer Camilo José Vergara

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Helena Zinkham (202) 707-2922
Contact: Downloadable images are available in an online press kit; register at www.loc.gov/pressroom/

The Library of Congress has acquired the photographic archive of Camilo José Vergara, who for the last 40 years has documented America’s post-industrial cities.

More than 5,000 “selected best” photographs will be housed in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division. For an overview of the collection and to view approximately 400 images that have been digitized, visit www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/camilo-vergara-photographs.html.

Helena Zinkham, chief of the Prints and Photographs Division, said “Vergara is a man of exceptional talent, who combines the worlds of documentary and artistic photography to record history as it happens. He uses photography to ‘track time’ and makes us look closely at how the urban decay of America’s inner cities changes in small and large ways.”

Vergara said, “I am delighted, thrilled and proud to have my life’s work archived at the Library of Congress, a great American institution. I feel happy reciprocating the amazing generosity that the people of my adopted country, the birthplace of my children and grandchild, have shown towards me.”

The acquisition, according to Zinkham, fills a gap in the Library’s coverage of cities from the 1980s to the present. Through photographs taken from the same vantage point over long periods of time, Vergara shows how areas can fall into ruin and, in some cases, revive through urban revitalization. He has photographed Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Camden, New Jersey, and 16 other urban areas. Vergara’s images reveal the life of the communities as well, the creativity of the people who reside in the ruined neighborhoods as they create powerful murals and adapt old buildings to new purposes.

Vergara became the first photographer to receive the National Humanities Medal, which was awarded by President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House in 2013. Vergara was named a Berlin Prize Fellow in 2010 by the American Academy in Berlin and a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 2002.

Born in Chile in 1944, Vergara received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s in sociology from Columbia University.

One of the top documentary photographers working today, Vergara is the author of many books including “Tracking Time—Documenting America’s Post-Industrial Cities” (2014); “Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto” (2013); “How the Other Half Worships” (2005); “Subway Memories” (2004); “Unexpected Chicagoland” (2001); “Twin Towers Remembered” (2001); and “American Ruins” (1999).

Vergara’s work is currently on display in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Detroit is No Dry Bones: The Eternal City of the Industrial Age” exhibition runs through Jan. 11, 2015, at the Liberty Gallery, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division includes more than 15 million photographs, drawings and prints from the 15th century to the present day. International in scope, these visual collections represent a uniquely rich array of human experience, knowledge, creativity and achievement, touching on almost every realm of endeavor: science, art, invention, government and political struggle, and the recording of history. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/rr/print/.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 158 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.


PR 15-002
ISSN 0731-3527