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Table of Contents Introduction Early Documentary Photography Modern Documentary Photography Who Took the Photograph? Why and For Whom Was the Photograph Taken? How Was the Photograph Taken? What can Companion Images Tell Us? How Was the Photograph Presented? Model Interpretation Documentary Photography Online Annotated Bibliography Try It Yourself Download Entire Essay (Acrobat PDF) Documentary Photography Online

America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945
Library of Congress, American Memory Project
This extraordinary resource features nearly 45,000 images taken by government photographers with the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the Office of War Information (OWI) during the New Deal and Second World War. These images show the impact of the Great Depression on farmers, life during the Dust Bowl, and mobilization campaigns for the Second World War. This site includes approximately 1,600 color photographs, as well as selections from two popular collections: “Migrant Mother Photographs” and “Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination.” Each photograph is accompanied by the original captions plus the negative number, which allows users to order copies from the prints and photographs division of the Library of Congress.

American Indians of the Pacific Northwest
Library of Congress, American Memory Project
This digital archive includes more than 2,300 photographs illustrating the everyday lives of American Indians in the Northwest Coast and Plateau regions of the Pacific Northwest. The materials illustrate American Indian housing, clothing, crafts, transportation, education, employment, and other aspects of everyday life. Items were drawn from the collections of the University of Washington Libraries, the Cheney Cowles Museum/Eastern Washington State Historical Society in Spokane, and the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955
Library of Congress, American Memory Project
This photo archive features more than 29,000 images, primarily of architectural subjects such as interiors and exteriors of homes, stores, offices, factories, and historic buildings. Photographs were made chiefly in the northeastern United States, especially the New York City area and Florida, and include pictures of the homes of notable Americans and of several U.S. presidents, as well as color images of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. Many of the photographs, commissioned by architects, designers, owners, and architectural publications, document important achievements in American 20th-century architecture and interior design.

California Heritage Digital Image Access Project
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
More than 10,000 digitally-reproduced photographs illustrate California’s history and culture. The site, searchable by keyword, features photographs of natural landscapes, Native Americans, San Francisco, Japanese relocation during World War II, and Californians from diverse backgrounds. Text accompanying each image is limited to artist/photographer, subject, and date.

Connecticut History Online
Connecticut Historical Society, Thomas H. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, and the Mystic Seaport Museum
This pilot site offers more than 4,300 images depicting Connecticut’s history from the beginning of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century. The images are divided into five categories: Livelihood; Diversity; Lifestyle; Infrastructure; and Environment. Each image includes notes on the creator, date, and place created, medium, repository information, and a brief (40-word) description of the subject.

Florida Photographic Collection
Florida State Archives
This site provides more than 20,000 digitized photographs, including historical landscape scenes, buildings, and people from all parts of Florida and throughout Florida’s history, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. A 15-word caption accompanies each image. The digitized collection is searchable by subject, photographer, keyword, and date.

William Gedney Photographs and Writings
Digital Scriptorium, Duke University

Photographer William Gedney’s work and writings, from the mid-1950s to the 1980s, are presented here. Gedney captured everyday life of people in places as diverse as Brooklyn, Kansas, India, and Europe. The site boasts more than 4,900 of his prints, workprints, and contact sheets. Photographs are arranged into 12 series: Composers; Cross Country; Europe; India; Kansas; Kentucky; New York; San Francisco; St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf; The Farm; Night Series; and Miscellaneous. Each image is accompanied by title and a 5-10 word note on the subject matter and date taken.

Hawaiian Newspapers, War Records, and Trust Territory
Image Collections
University of Hawai’i System Libraries
Photographs document the history of Hawaii and Micronesia from 1834 to the 1990s. The “Hawaii War Records” collection provides access to more than 1,300 photographs documenting the impact of World War II on Hawaii and its people. The photographs, from the Honolulu Star Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser, are indexed by year from 1941 to 1945 and are searchable by subject. Photographs document such war-related activities as war bond drives, air-raid evacuations, and silk stocking salvage collections. The Trust Territories archive provides access to 8,000 photographs of U.S. programs in education, health, political, and economic development in the islands of Micronesia from 1947 to 1994. The photographs are indexed by reel number but searchable by subject.

Helios: The Smithsonian American Art Museum
Photography Collection
Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is closed for renovations until 2003, but this site allows visitors to browse through more than 300 of the museum’s photographs in the “Photography Online” exhibit. These include (American Photographs: The First Century), featuring more than 175 daguerrotypes and photographs from the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Civil War images, western landscapes, and people at work and play from 1839 to 1939; (Between Home and Heaven), offering 90 recent landscape photographs taken throughout the United States; and (Secrets of the Dark Chamber: The Art of the American Daguerreotype ).

History of the American West, 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library
Library of Congress, American Memory Project
This site features more than 30,000 photographs taken between 1860 and 1920, including images of Colorado towns, landscapes, mining scenes, and members of more than 40 Native Americans tribes living West of the Mississippi River. The special presentations on this site include: a gallery of more than 30 photographs depicting the dwellings, children, and daily lives of Native American women; more than 30 images of buildings, statues, and parks in Denver, Colorado; and roughly 20 World War II-era photographs of the 10th Mountain Division, ski troops based in Colorado who fought in Italy during the war.

Images of African Americans from the 19th Century
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Digital Library Collection
Drawn from collections of family photographs, African-American school photographs, and personal collections, this site contains more than 650 nineteenth-century images, including prints, original negatives, and transparencies. The images in this archive depict the social, political, and cultural worlds of their African American subjects. Images are grouped by categories that include the Civil War, cultural expression, education, family, genre pictures, labor, organizations and institutions, politics, portraiture, Reconstruction, religion, slavery, and the social life and customs of African Americans.

National Museum of American History Virtual Exhibitions
Smithsonian Institution
Several of the National Museum of American History virtual exhibits present photographs. Freeze Frame: Eadweard Muybridge's Photography of Motion explores the most famous work of English photographer Eadweard Muybridge with more than 60 photographs. Photographing History: Fred J. Maroon and the Nixon Years, 1970-1974 exhibits more than 25 photographs taken during the last four years of Richard M. Nixon's presidency by Fred J. Maroon. A Visual Journey: Photographs by Lisa Law, 1965-1971 offers roughly 50 images from the 1960s counterculture as seen through the lens of photographer Lisa Law's camera from 1965 to 1971.

New Deal Network: A Guide to the Great Depression of the 1930s
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute


This site presents more than 4,000 photographs that document life in America during the Great Depression and the New Deal. Photographs are drawn from the National Archives, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, and many other sources. Photo database subject headings include: Culture (art, film, music, theater, and writing); Construction (conservation, historical projects, housing, recreational facilities, and transportation); Social programs (education, health care, production and redistribution of goods, professional services, and recreation); Federal agencies; Public figures; and Disaster relief.

Prairie Settlement: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters, 1862-1912
Library of Congress, American Memory Project

This collection illustrates the story of settlement on the Great Plains from 1862 to 1912. The 3,000 glass plate negatives from the Solomon Butcher photograph collection depict everyday life in central Nebraska, with images of businesses, farms, people, churches, and fairs in Custer, Buffalo, Dawson, and Cherry counties.

Still Picture Unit
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

NARA has placed selected finding aids (including introductory text and captions) and photographs online, although they are not always directly linked. These pages are not well-designed, but the information is clear. Image files are high quality, so downloads may be slow. Photographs of the American West 1861-1912 features 196 photographs that document westward migration and the development of America's western frontier. Pictures of African Americans During World War II depicts African Americans in military training, in combat, and on the home front. Pictures of the American City provides 170 photographs depicting the development of the American city from the early nineteenth century to the present. Pictures of World War II offers selected photographs depicting the activities of Americans during World War II.

Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920
Library of Congress, American Memory Project
This archive offers more than 25,000 glass negatives and transparencies, as well as 300 color photolithograph prints, mostly of the eastern United States. A smaller group within the larger collection features about 900 Mammoth Plate Photographs taken by William Henry Jackson along several railroad lines in the United States and Mexico in the 1880s and 1890s, including views of California, Wyoming, and the Canadian Rockies. Many photographs were published as postcards.

Washington As It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak,
Library of Congress, American Memory Project
Presents approximately 14,350 photographs by Theodor Horydczak (1890-1971) documenting the Washington metropolitan era between the 1920s and 1950s. Subjects include the architecture (interiors and exteriors) of government and residential buildings; street scenes; views of neighborhoods; images of laborers constructing the Memorial Bridge; and important events such as the 1932 Bonus March and the 1933 World Series.

Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of
Lynching in America
James Allen, Collector
James Allen has assembled a collection of chilling photographs and postcards taken at lynchings throughout America, primarily from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This Web site, a companion to the book Without Sanctuary, offers more than 80 photographs with captions, and most images also have links to more extensive, 150-word descriptions of the circumstances behind that particular situation. Please note: these images are very disturbing and may not be appropriate for younger students.


Footer Go to MAKING SENSE OF EVIDENCE Browse Page Go to MAKING SENSE OF DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY Home Page Try It Yourself! Annotated Bibliography Documentary Photography Online Model Interpretation How Was The Photograph Presented? What Can Companion Images Tell Us? How Was the Photograph Taken? How Was the Photograph Taken? Why and for Whom Was the Photograph Taken? Who Took the Photograph? Modern Documentary Photography Early Documentary Photography Introduction