Sunday, January 29, 2012

A multitude of images

It is possible to raise wasting time to the level of art and I'm close. When you're good at something, you should share. So here's one of my favorite online time-wasting resources --- the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

Type any word of combination of words into the search engine, sit back and spend as much time as you like browsing through the results from about 70 databases. If you're a hoarder, you can download these images in a variety of sizes and formats and add to the clutter on your hard drive.

Not much turns up when you do a "Chariton" search and much of what does is related to Chariton County, Missouri, but as it turns out a classic 1907 panoramic view of the Chariton, Iowa, square is the Library of Congress collection, included in the "Panoramic Photographs" database. I've clipped a portion of it out to use at the head of this post. Here is the entire image, but you'll have to right-click and hit "open in new window" to see the whole thing.

There still are several original versions of this image in and around Chariton, including two at the Lucas County Historical Society and one hanging on the wall at Piper's.

Cedar Rapids native Carl Van Vechten, author, photographer and patron of the Harlem Renaissance, has his own database of 1,395 photographs, many of them of celebrities, including the incomparable Josephine Baker (above).

There's a lot here, too, to keep those of us who obsess about old buildings amused. Here's a photograph of one of my favorite houses in the whole world, Shadows on the Teche (or the Weeks/Hall house) at New Iberia, Louisiana, from the "Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South" database. This incorporates photographs taken primarily during the 1930s by architectural photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston.

My favorite database, Historic American Buildings Survey, continues to grow since the collection consists of more than 500,000 images --- and that's a heck of a lot of digitalization. The survey (known has HABS) was a New Deal project, commenced during 1933, to employ architects, draftsmen and photographers left jobless by the Great Depression. The result is an amazing resource that, that had it not been for the Great Depression and New Deal, would not exist.

An "Iowa" search turns up nearly 5,000 images --- and, sadly, HABS workers worked less extensively in Iowa than they did elsewhere and apparently not at all in Lucas County. None-the-less this is an invaluable record, capturing in many instances buildings that have since vanished leaving little trace behind.

Here, for example, are two images from the HABS database of the octagonal Henry L. Russell house, near Bloomfield, that was collapsing when the photographs were taken and disappeared shortly thereafter.

So if you've got a little time to waste on a Sunday afternoon, dig into the database and have fun!


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