In many ways, the Library of Congress and the National Park Service are alike. Both are public utilities with noble missions. Both celebrate uniquely American values. Both are really, really big. The Library of Congress is also a National Historic Landmark, which is administered by the National Park Service. Or course, there’s another, more tangible way the two federal institutions are connected: the Library of Congress is the repository of a wealth of historical photographs that help tell the early story of the parks.
The sources of the images seen here are hugely varied. One was made by a photographer working for the Farm Security Administration, the New Deal program that backed the pioneering documentary work of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Several come from the Matson Photo Service, a for-profit agency launched by a utopian Christian sect based in Jerusalem in the early 20th century. Another comes from the Historic American Engineering Record, a partnership between the Park Service, the Library of Congress, and the American Society of Civil Engineers to document historic sites relating to industry and engineering. What all these pictures share is a kind of unvarnished innocence that reflects an era in which both photography as a medium and the national parks as an entity were still finding their identities.