Library of Congress abandons the darkroom

A recent article in the Washington City Paper discusses a end-of-year decision by the Library of Congress to discontinue its longstanding service of providing the public with silver-gelatin prints created from the negatives in its photography collection.  For the last fifty years this service has allowed individuals like myself to acquire masterpieces of twentieth century photography for a nominal sum.  When I come downstairs each morning I confront a well-known Walker Evans photograph (Roadside Fish and Produce Stand with Young Men Holding Watermelons) hanging on my wall. It was created in 1936 near Birmingham, Alabama – as part of a commission for the Farm Security Commission that involved Evans along with numerous artists including Dorthea Lange and Gordon Parks, each photographing poor rural areas of the American South.  A variation of this photograph can be found in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art but I think I have the better version (it’s the one with young girl in the  shadows gesturing to the camera in a kind of curtsy).  The print was purchased from the Library of Congress in the 80’s and printed by a government darkroom technician who used the original negative created by Evans.  The fact that my print comes from the object that was held, exposed and developed by Evans in 1936 suddenly becomes all the more the meaningful as the Library of Congress moves to an all digital system for researchers.

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