The Photographic History Collection (PHC) at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is the first collection of photography in a U.S. museum dedicated to the history of the medium. It was founded as its own collecting section in the summer of 1896. The PHC is an international collection with nearly 250,000 photographs, photographic objects, ephemera, apparatus and equipment.
Over the past two decades, the National Museum of American History has been observing the power digital photography has to shape media content across all platforms, to document individual experiences, and to provide in depth documentation around monumental events.
COVID-19 Digital Photography Collection
The museum is currently working with photographers across the country to acquire and share the everyday reality of living during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first set of multiple pandemic-related digital acquisitions has recently been acquired for the permanent collection. These acquisitions are comprised of:
· 602 images from 12 sources, work representing 11 photographers and one college history class.
· The photographs were all made between March and October 2020, with the exception of one, which dates from January 2020.
· The photographers have retained their copyrights. Contact information available upon request. A selection of the images are available via Dropbox.
Joel Bryant – 134 images: A peripatetic entertainer whose shows and gigs were cancelled, Bryant went on a road trip for three weeks (end of March to beginning of April) across the country recording empty cities, including Los Angeles, Fort Worth, New Orleans, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.
Brandon Buza – 71 images: 351 Miles is the title of his project and reflects how many miles Buza, a professional photographer, walked documenting San Francisco’s response to the pandemic over the course of 100 days.
Abby Jones – 23 images: Jones photographed the empty city of Philadelphia, including eating establishments, closed playgrounds, etc. She used Instagram as a visual diary.
Jennifer Jovanovic – 31 images: Jovanovic photographed discarded masks on her walks around her Los Angeles-area neighborhood. These photographs raise questions about environmental impact.
Kaitlyn Kuczer – One image: Kuczer took a screen shot of a January 2020 commercial airline cockpit message indicating that flight was the last to China.
Francesca Magnani – 78 images: This Italian street photographer has lived and worked in New York City for more than 20 years. She photographed people wearing masks with political or fashion statements, reflecting their personal identities. Chatting with her subjects, she often learned about who made the masks and where the materials came from, such as countries of origin and childhood bedroom curtains.
BP Miller – 16 images: A professional photojournalist, Miller photographed an Emergency Room nurse in her protective gear and with her family. The photo session was intended to record her anxiety about exposure and record her interactions with family.
Orson Oblowitz – 96 images: A Hollywood cinematographer and photographer, Oblowitz’ black and white photographs show the impact on Los Angeles. His photographs include theater marquee messages, costumed characters, mask-wearing tourists, and people experiencing homelessness.
Christopher Schlect – 83 images: Schlect is a college professor who turned an end-of-year assignment into a 2020 end-of-year documentary project. New Saint Andrews College students photographed in and around Moscow, Idaho to document what they were seeing as it related to messaging, activities and interactions related to the pandemic and its restrictions.
Devin Speak – 25 images: Former U.S. Coast Guard member and NYU photojournalism student, Speak became a temporary mortuary response worker. When the volume of individuals who died of COVID-19 became more than what his New York City hospital could manage, he documented bodies in the morgue, in hallways, and being moved for burial.
Katherine Taylor – 31 images: A Boston-area photojournalist, Taylor set up an outdoor studio and photographed an array of individuals with their masks. She also asked three questions about mask wearing. This information is included with the photographs. Subjects include two local government officials, hair stylists, mothers, and a mental health worker.
Colette Veasey-Cullors – 13 images: This Baltimore MICA photography professor and fine art photographer turned the camera inward both in terms of her domestic space but also her internal life during the stay-at-home orders.
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