If you’re interested in vintage photography and cameras then the odds are good that you know about the US Government’s Library of Congress catalogue. If you don’t this is for you.
The LoC catalogue documents American – and international – history. It’s made up of extensive collections (some privately-owned) which include maps, manuscripts, newspapers, film and sound recordings. But of particular relevance here are the astounding collections of prints and photographs.
Collections go back to the earliest days of photography. There’s a collection of photographs by Roger Fenton (pretty much agreed to be the first official war photographer) who documented the Crimea War over a four month period in 1855. He took several cameras, hundreds of glass plates and a photographers assistant to the battle zone. Here he made over 300 large-format glass negatives using the wet-collodian method. This allowed for an unlimited number of prints – albumin on salted paper – to be made for exhibition and sale. These are not battlefield “action shots”; the wet-collodian exposure period is up to 15 seconds so all were carefully composed, and posed.
There are several collections of American Civil War photography with a fine set of glass plate negatives taken during battle. There are several collections of American Civil War photography with a fine set of glass plate negatives taken during battle. Also collections from the first half of the 20th century made during the frenzy of “recording” things – indigenous peoples and folk music in particular.
In fact the whole website is a delight. If you’re a little bit interested in anything at all, you’ll find it here. But don’t begin unless you have time on your hands.