"Sleuthing" for Photographs
Those of us old enough to remember classic television can never forget the announcer saying: "There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them." As a child, I often wondered how they chose that one story to entertain us television viewers. Just what made that one story so unique! This past year I have been involved in a project to choose photographs for an exhibit on women transforming Congress. I did not have to gather eight million photos, but each of the hundred plus images I used had a story behind it. How did we find it? Why was it chosen? Were there any interesting details associated with securing it? While space does not allow me to detail the "story" behind each photo, the search for these photos is an adventure worth sharing.
In January 1999, Michael Lovegrove (who was at that time an archivist at the Carl Albert Center Congressional Archives) and I were given the task of preparing a photo exhibit to be displayed in conjunction with the Center's conference on women and Congress. Initially, we thought that our job would be quite easy, but early on we realized that we could not cover all the women who served in Congress and have room for images of other women who have testified or lobbied or in some way caused Congress to change.
Where to Begin?
Special collections and archives are another source, albeit intimidating to the non-user. Because these bastions of history are often understaffed, the out-of-state researcher sometimes has to choose his or her words carefully in the hopes that these kind folks will do some photo research and not charge an exorbitant price. In each instance, we gave these "keepers of the photos" some idea of what we wanted, and they "went the extra mile," copied images (sometimes at no charge!) of designated women, and then either faxed or mailed the copies to us.
Of course, in order to do a project of this magnitude, one must visit or contact the various government repositories. Megan Benson (a graduate assistant at the Carl Albert Center) and I made a whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C. including fruitful visits to the National Archives, Library of Congress, and the Senate Historical Office. The staff at these facilities were enormously helpful, making every moment of our brief time count. Staff at both the Washington and Maryland sites of the National Archives were especially helpful.
Finally, we had to rely on the wire services and the publishing companies that emphasize the national government for photos of contemporary members of Congress. The photo archives of Associated Press/Wide World Photos and Corbis-Bettmann are brought to one's personal computer by way of the Internet. Trying to obtain photos of current members of Congress from their offices was not always productive, but congressional staff did help identify other places where we might look.
How to Choose?
Each woman was known for championing a certain legislative agenda. Sometimes we were lucky and found just the right image. The photo of Clare Booth Luce (R-Conn., 1943-1947) - the epitome of sophistication - at a battlefront in World War II was great! And Frances Bolton (R-Ohio,1940-1969) exploring the African marketplace - the ideal way to depict the congresswoman's interest in international aid and development.
A long, hectic year has passed since Michael and I began our photo sleuthing.
Happily, there were few problems. One photographer did decide to mix politics
with selling photographs when he made disparaging remarks about Speaker
Albert and then quoted an exorbitant price for a print. Perhaps the most
important lesson that I took from this experience is how best to handle
requests of our own archival photos. We are ready to help with the next
person's photo jaunt!
Carolyn Hanneman is an archivist in the Carl Albert Center Congressional Archives.