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

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Prints and Photographs Division

Montage of Image 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.

Documentary Photographs

Montage of Documentary Photos

In December 2001, an extraordinary display of some 250 color images of "ground zero" taken during and immediately after the attacks by twenty local news photographers opened at the Bolivar Arellano Gallery in New York. Although a handful of the images taken have appeared in newspapers and magazines, the vast majority of these works were unpublished. A news photographer himself, Arellano opened his small exhibit space specifically to display the 9/11 photos of his friends and colleagues, as well as his own. All wanted their work to bear public witness to the shocking tragedy--the biggest story they would ever cover--as well as to honor the dead and the actions of the living. The 126 riveting images selected for the Library's collection reveal photojournalism at its best.

As the curators continuously reviewed the Division's growing archive, they realized that important images were missing. While scores of photographers had documented the destruction of the World Trade Center, few were on hand when the Pentagon was attacked, or when highjacked Flight 93 crashed in a rural field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Intent on filling gaps, Division curators viewed several dramatic, eye-witness shots of the Pentagon taken by a local amateur photographer, Daryl Donley. An administrator at the National Symphony Orchestra, he had been caught in a traffic jam directly opposite the building. The doomed passenger jet passed directly over his car before exploding in a fireball inside the immense office complex. After recovering from his initial shock, Donley reached for his camera and took a unique series of photographs of the burning structure immediately following the impact. Tracking him down, the resourceful photo curators arranged to acquire a selection of his extraordinary views.

To obtain needed images from Shanksville, curators contacted newspapers, the local volunteer fire department, and even the rural electric cooperative, eventually locating several independent and amateur photographers who had documented the crash site, the activities of Red Cross and other volunteer workers, and the memorials to the victims that had spontaneously appeared. From online databases, curators also identified relevant Shanksville and Pentagon images from photographers employed by Associated Press, Reuters, and the Knight-Ridder Syndicate and obtained additional images for the collection.

Link to: Documentary Photographs Gallery

Exit Art

Exit Art, an alternative gallery space in New York City, mounted Reactions: A Global Response to the 9/11 Attacks, in January 2002. Recognizing that people everywhere had an urgent need to freely communicate their feelings publicly, the staff had sent out a worldwide appeal by letter and e-mail for individuals to send in creative responses. There was one simple criterion: each work had to be sized 8 1/2 x 11 inches. 2,443 pieces went on view, hanging densely in rows from wires strung across the gallery. They included heart-felt and highly personal creations: drawings, paintings, photographs, collages, letters, digital prints, poems, and graphic designs--with sophisticated work by internationally recognized artists hung side-by-side with drawings by children. The Prints and Photographs Division acquired the entire archive, representative examples of which are on view here. This collection reveals a wide variety of social, cultural, and emotional reactions to the terrorist attacks, the same-sized works expressed strong feelings--grief, fear, anger, hope, patriotism, even strong antiwar sentiment. (Photo courtesy of Exit Art, New York)

Link to: Exit Art

Montage of Max Protech Gallery Designs for the World Trade CenterMax Protetch Gallery

In early 2002 an unconventional exhibition opened in New York, A New World Trade Center: Design Proposals. In collaboration with the editors of Architectural Record, gallery owner Max Protetch had invited more than 100 architects worldwide to submit proposals for the redevelopment of the twin towers site. Sixty, including many internationally acclaimed practitioners in the field, sent sets of drawings, models, and photographs, as well as state-of-the-art electronic and digital presentations of their ideas. Freed from practical, real-world constraints imposed by clients, and incorporating radically different technological, economic, social, and philosophical approaches, the proposals were highly creative and forward looking. The Library is acquiring the entire archive. In its totality, the work provides a remarkable "snapshot" of advanced architectural thinking at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Link to: Max Protetch Gallery

Comic Book Art and Political Cartoons

Montage of Comics from the 911 ExhibitionThe comic book is a powerful and compelling storytelling medium, and, in the aftermath of September 11, illustrators were among the first artists to respond to the terrorist attacks. In an unprecedented action, a coalition of publishers, writers, and illustrators quickly joined forces to produce a remarkable, two-volume anthology, September 11: The World's Finest Comic Book Writers and Artists Tell Stories to Remember. The editors and publishers of these books, as well as another graphic publication, World War III Illustrated, were contacted by Prints and Photographs Division curators to inquire about possible acquisitions. All were highly enthusiastic and in turn contacted the artists who, in a remarkable display of generosity and unity, donated 335 original drawings to the Library.

In addition, curators identified specific editorial cartoons and illustrations for the collection, including the work of Ann Telnaes, Tony Auth, Kevin Kallaugher, Jeff Danziger, Garry Trudeau, and the team of Maira Kalman and Rick Meyerowitz. These artists convey thoughtful observations on eroded tolerance for varied political and religious convictions and capture the tragedies' destruction and violence.

Link to: Comic Book Art and Political Cartoons Gallery



Montage of posters from the 911 ExhibitonIn the field of posters and related graphic design, a variety of New York artists produced works intended to boost spirits and heal emotions in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. For a collaborative project entitled "Time to Consider: The Arts Respond to 9/11," poets, architects, artists, and designers submitted one hundred designs. Four were finally selected for printing and were distributed all over the city. In addition, five compelling 9/11-related poster designs in the annual springtime Communications Graphics Show, sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic, entered the Library's collections as gifts.

In late October 2001, a series of ten, full-page photo essays were published in USA Today entitled "Courageous Americans." Sponsored by the Burger King Corporation, they featured stark, black and white portraits of rescue personnel taken by famed New York photographer Richard Avedon, along with short descriptions of their personal courage. Burger King Corporation donated a unique set of photo essays, printed as a suite of posters especially for the Library.

Link to: Posters Gallery

Montage of Fine Art from the 911 ExhibitionFine Arts

Fine artists were slower to respond creatively than illustrators and graphic designers, but an exhibition presented in early 2002 by Meridian International Center in Washington, D. C., True Colors: Meditations on the American Spirit as well as Artists Respond: September 11, staged at the Rockville (MD) Arts Place, provided a source of new acquisitions. Two memorial print portfolios that were added to the collection are 9/11. Fear, Fate, Faith by students and faculty at the Corcoran School of Art and Design and September 11th, published by artist members of New York's Manhattan Graphics Center. In all, eighty-three artists' prints and drawings were acquired, many by gift. The majority of these artists had created their work not for the art market, but out of an inner need to express and allay their own personal feelings of anguish, mourning, and disbelief.

Link to: Fine Arts Gallery

[Image: caption immediately follows]
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)


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.

 HOME  Exhibition Overview  Object List  Public Programs  Credits
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May 14, 2004

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