A picture is worth a thousand history books in Not an Ostrich

Not an ostrich at the Library of Congress

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So it’s only fitting that the Library of Congress, a place known for housing more words than any other institution, also has tons of photos — around 15 million, to be precise. For the first time, the library is exhibiting a selection of these photos in Not an Ostrich: and Other Pictures from the American Library. Organized by the Annenberg Foundation, LoC’s massive collection has been whittled down to just 400 images for the exhibition, with around 70 reproductions of them hanging in the library’s beautiful Jefferson Building, and the rest alive in slideshows throughout. along the show and online. The strange title of the exhibition comes from a 1930 photo of an actor Bevan Island, elegantly wearing pearls, holding a fuzzy bird that looks like an ostrich. The twist? It’s not, it’s actually the ‘floradora goose’, on display at the annual poultry show at Madison Square Garden. The photo is in equally strange and whimsical company. Another from the 1970s shows two ballerinas sharing a long stretchy leotard, a “duotard”, used in choreographers. Bella Lewitzkyit’s the dance, Inscape. The happiest picture in the exhibition might be Sharon Farmerfrom 1990 Beatrice Fergerson, 97, twirling a hoop around her hips in her North Brentwood front yard. The collection also features the historical (an off-center portrait of a young man turns out to be Robert Cornelius taking the “first selfie” in 1839 – he had to sit for over 10 minutes to do it), the iconic (Dorothee Langethe famous Depression era image of Florence Owens Thompson with children by his side), and the disturbing one (a 1964 image taken by Danny Lyons of a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee photographer assaulted by the police). Every picture in Not an ostrich stands alone as a fascinating window into a moment in time. Taken together, the images in the exhibit tell the story of photographic technology and the story of America, sometimes breathtaking, sometimes vile, always captivating. Not an ostrich is on display until 2024 at the Library of Congress, 10 First St. SE. loc.gov. Free.

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