Earlier this fall, I was struck by the photograph below, located on the wall outside the Still Pictures Room in our College Park facility.
Capt. Edward J. Steichen, USNR, (retired), photographic expert on island platform, studies his surroundings for one of his outstanding photographs of life aboard an aircraft carrier. Capt. Steichen held the rank of Comdr. at this time., ca. 11/1943
After reading the caption, I discovered that the famous photographer, Edward Steichen, had worked for the military during World War II. Ed McCarter, our Supervisory Archivist of Still Pictures, told me that Steichen had worked for the Navy on the U.S.S. Carrier Lexington in World War II, as a 62 year-old. At the National Archives, we have about 30 photographs that identify Steichen as the photographer, but there are likely many more because he also served as head of a photography unit in the Air Service in World War I.
Steichen was 67 years old when he completed active duty after World War II, and during that time had to be reinstated when he had reached retirement age. In his book, A Life in Photography, he describes his experience: “Everything about an aircraft carrier is dramatic, but the most spectacular things are the take-offs and landings of the planes.”
F6F takes off from USS Lexington (CVA 16) for third day of strikes in attack on Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands., ca. 11/1943. ARC ID: 520760.
For those who are interested and study photography, the National Archives collection of millions of photographs at our College Park facility is a treasure trove. As a researcher, in person and online, you can see pictures from famous photographers including Mathew Brady, Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, and Imogen Cummingham, not to mention the multitude of unidentified government photographers.
Lewis Hine is another well known photographer found in the photographs of the National Archives. He began working as a photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) in 1906. For several years, he traveled around the country documenting the conditions of children working in factories, farms, and on urban streets. Producing more than 5,000 photographs for the NCLC, his work played a significant role in passing the Child Labor Law in 1916.
Rhodes Mfg. Co. Spinner. A moments glimpse of the outer world. Said she was 11 years old. Been working over a year. Lincolnton, N.C. 11/11/1908. ARC ID: 523106.
In 1936, Hine was hired as head photographer of the National Research Project on Reemployment Opportunities and Recent Changes in Industrial Techniques. He made photo studies of 14 industrial communities in various states along the Eastern Seaboard. Researchers can discover and learn from more than 1,100 photographs attributed to Hine through our catalog and on our Flickr photostream.
High Point, North Carolina – Upholstering. Tomlinson Chair Manufacturing Co. Upright belt sander chair arm – been at the furniture business 30 years – man and machine in action, 1936-1937. ARC ID: 518490.
At the National Archives, we also have more than 3,000 photographs from Dorothea Lange. She worked tirelessly with the Farm Security Administration and other government agencies to document the victims of the Great Depression from California and Arizona to Southeastern states such as Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina.
Eloy District, Pinal County, Arizona. Mexican irrigator on duty preparing field for flax cultivation., 11/1940. ARC ID 522525.
During World War II, she worked for the War Relocation Authority to document the lives, living conditions, and treatment of the Japanese-Americans that were sent to Relocation camps for the duration of the war.
Centerville, California. Grandmother of farm family awaits evacuation bus…, 05/09/1942. ARC ID 537571.
Steichen, Hine, and Lange were talented photographers whose work with government agencies left an imprint not only on the history of the United States, but also on the history and development of documentary photography.
I encourage you to explore our extensive collection of photographs, thousands of which are digitized and available to you online. Check out our Flickr photostream, which is included in the Commons on Flickr, as well as featured on the iPad and iPhone applications called “indicommons.”
Who is your favorite photographer from the National Archives?