November 11, 2010

Carol Highsmith: 1st National Photographer

A couple of weeks ago the Washington Post did a wonderful story about Carol Highsmith--an amazing women and talented photographer who has coordinated a 50 state tour to take photographs of the entire United States for the Library of Congress.
As photo assignments go, it's a doozy. Spend 16 years capturing the disappearing highways, byways, buildings, barns, lighthouses, baseball games and bake-offs that define American life as we know it, then salt it away for posterity in the world's largest library.

Of course, your assignment also requires that you raise your own funds, provide your own travel -- and, oh yes -- donate all of your work, copyright-free, for eternity.

This is the unorthodox and stunning task D.C.-based photographer Carol M. Highsmith has set herself, embarking on a 50-state tour to capture timeless images for a permanent collection in the Library of Congress. The thousands of images she takes are free for downloading immediately, to anyone for any purpose. The digital works will go into the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, alongside the works of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady and Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange, in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive.

"It's mind-blowing, really," says Jeremy Adamson, director for collections and services at the library.

It's all part of a life-defining quest the 64-year-old Takoma Park resident has been playing out for years, following in the footsteps (figuratively and sometimes literally) of Frances Benjamin Johnston, a pioneer of female achievement in early photography. Johnston, a D.C. native who trekked across the nation in the late 19th century and early 20th century and donated all of her work to the library, gives Highsmith inspiration and a mandate.

I found Ms. Highsmith's story incredibly inspiring, and I hope you'll read the entire piece. Meanwhile, some of her remarkable photos (I found most inspiring and haunting her "disappearing" portfolio):

United Artists Theater in LA

The White House at Dusk

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