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Is Carol M. Highsmith the Most Generous Artist of Our Time?

Posted by Laurie Frost on May 27, 2009

100,000 public domain digital images:  That is the estimated number of images  that Carol M. Highsmith (b. 1946) will one day have provided the public for their personal, educational, or commercial use all for the price of a credit line.  Since 1992, Carol M. Highsmith has donated her work and assigned her rights to the Library of Congress, and in 2002 began providing digital scans or digital photos, which will speed up the archiving of her images.  So far, over 2500  photos have been posted on the Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog’s Highsmith Archive, and thousands more are in process.


Library of Congress  [LC-DIG-highsm-01951] Library of Congress [LC-DIG-highsm-01951 


Her photos have been featured in some 50 books with over 1.5 million copies sold. Apparently, she was smart and kept hold of her rights to her work!

 Appropriately enough, Highsmith has contributed hundreds of exterior and interior views of the Library of Congress.

Highsmith’s generosity was inspired by that of Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952):

She gave the Library of Congress copy-right free about 50,000 images. That was the cornerstone of their prints and photographs division. I felt it imperative to photograph the turn of this century as well as my lifetime and work with the Library of Congress to help them build their collection of new images. [see]

Johnston studied in Paris before returning to the US in 1890 and opening a photography studio. Her subjects ranged from presidents and tycoons to coal miners and sharecroppers. Here are a few examples form the Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection:

Self-Portrait, 1896  [LC-USZ62-64301] Self-Portrait, 1896 [LC-USZ62-64301 

Neith Boyce Hapgood  [LC-USZ62-95740]

Neith Boyce Hapgood [ LC-USZ62-95740

One Response to “Is Carol M. Highsmith the Most Generous Artist of Our Time?”

  1. […] At the end of March, I told you that photographer Carol Highsmith was in Alabama, working on a project for the Library of Congress, the 21st Century America Collection. Her goal is to document in digital images life in each state so that future generations will have an idea of what America was like in the first decades of this century. These images will be copyright free, donated to the Library of Congress and placed in the public domain (see Is Carol M. Highsmith the Most Generous Artist of Our Time?). […]

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