By Walter W. Woodward
In our image-saturated world, nothing is missed more than the picture not taken. Who among us has not regretted—on many occasions—that a particular moment, event, or place wasn’t captured in an image, so we could remember it by eye as well as by mind. Historians know pictures are worth far more than the proverbial thousand words—often, they are the best or only window into times, places, and moments that would otherwise be irretrievable.
Enter James H. Billington, former Harvard and Princeton history professor and, since 1987, America’s 13th Librarian of Congress. Acutely aware of images’ importance to history, he has brought together civic-minded philanthropists who are supporting nationally acclaimed visual documentarian Carol M. Highsmith in a historic exploration of America, state by state, that is producing a vast Library of Congress archive available to all without copyright restriction. Highsmith, whose clients have ranged from National Geographic to the American Institute of Architects and National Trust for Historic Preservation explored Connecticut by air, land, and water to capture the essence of our distinctive version of New England. Having photographed in every state of the union, Highsmith found Connecticut to be unique. “It’s not Disneyland, it’s not cookie cutter suburbs,” Highsmith said. “I fell in love with it. Connecticut is still there, what America was, and what it still is.”
Highsmith admits, “You have to dig deeper in Connecticut—it’s not a surface state. And you have to be there in the seasons—experience it all—to understand just how beautiful and diverse it is. Connecticut stands alone,” Highsmith noted. “I never went anywhere in Connecticut that I thought I was in a different state.”
More than 1,000 Highsmith images of Connecticut are available online and copyright free at the Library of Congress Carol M. Highsmith Archive at loc.gov/collections/carol-m-highsmith/ and 235 are included in Connecticut, a 265-page hardcover book by Highsmith and me, (published by Highsmith’s Chelsea Publishing), available in September.
Walter W. Woodward is the state historian.