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Library of Congress Shares Historical Photos on Flickr

Young boy near Cincinnati, Ohio. John Vachon (1942 or 1943).

Young boy near Cincinnati, Ohio. John Vachon (1942 or 1943).

In the years following “The Greatest Generation”, the events of the Great Depression and World War II were often imagined in a series of snapshots and newsreels. The muted shades of gray or sepia dividing the facts of history from the full color present. In January 2008, the Library of Congress began a pilot program using Flickr to share thousands of color photos taken in the 1930′s and 1940′s, to bring the immediacy and vibrancy of America’s past into a modern day social network. According to the Library of Congress website, “1,600 color images from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, 1,500+ images from the George Grantham Bain News Service, selected panoramic photographs, portraits of jazz musicians and personalities by William P. Gottlieb from the Library of Congress Performing Arts Reading Room, and other photos from the Library of Congress collections” are currently available for viewing on Flickr. Possessing a Flickr account is not necessary for viewing these photos, but is required for commenting and/or tagging images. The goal of sharing these invaluable photos is to “increase awareness of these collections with the general public” and invite people to share any pertinent historical or biographical information they might have regarding the images.

An article on the DailyFinance website praises the vibrant, richly colored collection for depicting “a Depression-era world in which the downfall doesn’t necessarily mean destitution.” The stunning photos were taken by “several famous photographers, including Jack Delano, Russell Lee and Marjory Collins.” Like our current economic situation, many struggled financially, but even deep in a depression, there were bright spots. “Gone are the bleak landscapes and hopeless-looking sharecroppers that populate so many of the rural images from the 1930′s…In short, it is a world that is more frugal than today’s America, but not necessarily less joyful.”

The pilot program started by the Library of Congress prompted Flickr to create The Commons, a new initiative that allows cultural heritage institutions to share images from their photographic archives or collections that do not have any known copyright restrictions. Over two-dozen organizations have joined The Commons since its inception, sharing historical photographic materials from around the world.

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