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Prints and Photographs Division



Graphic Journalism and Illustration
Photojournalism Collections
Documentary Surveys
Advertising and Propaganda
Pictures: Business and Art
arrow graphicProfessional Photographers
Commercial Photographs of Native Americans
Detroit Publishing Company
Panoramic Photographs
Stereographs/Card Photos
Individually Cataloged Photographs
Fine Prints
Popular Graphic Arts
Design Collections
Organizations' Records
Personal Papers



Professional Photographers from the Post-Daguerreotype Era

Portrait photography was a staple of many photographers who earned a living with their cameras in the post-daguerreotype era. The corpus of their work invites exploration of the manner in which photographers' clients, who were largely of the middle class, and the photographer collaborated to convey idealized versions of their physical features and their lifestyles. Examining the output of a single photographer affords researchers evidence with which to investigate the role the camera operator may have played in this transaction. Some examples of collections that suggest the varied approaches of professional photographers of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries are given below.

Brady-Handy Collection

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Laura LeClair & Lottie Forbes. Between 1855 and 1865. Prints and Photographs Division.
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Levin C. Handy (1855?-1932) was apprenticed at the age of twelve to his uncle, famed Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady (1823?-1896). Handy became an independent photographer and over the years owned studios in Washington, D.C., in partnership with Samuel Chester and with Chester and Brady. The Brady-Handy Collection consists of approximately 10,000 negatives from Handy's studio, which absorbed some of his uncle's earlier studio photographs. The majority of the Brady-Handy negatives are of Civil War and post-Civil War portraits, with a small collection of Washington views. Antebellum actresses, many in costume, are well represented in the collection, as are wives and daughters of men prominent in the Washington social scene and in the conduct of the Civil War. (Most of the Library's Civil War photographs, including those made under Brady's direction, are found in the Civil War Photographs Collection.)

Searching the Brady-Handy Collection

The Brady-Handy Collection can be searched in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, where it has its own listing. Digital images accompany the records. Retrieving online records and images depends primarily on words in the titles and notes found on the negatives or negative sleeves. Fruitful keywords when looking for portraits of women include the last name of the individual and terms such as “actress,” “mrs.,” “daughter,” and “lady.”

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Portrait of an elderly woman. Charles Currier. ca. 1900. Prints and Photographs Division.

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Charles Currier Collection

Photographs made by Boston-based photographer Charles Currier (500 photos, 1887-1910) provide a glimpse into the homes and recreations of upper-class families in that region (LOT 11337). Currier's interior views of clients' dwellings offer a detailed picture of the Victorian home and furnishings. His work also provides sparse but intriguing glimpses of women working in factories and an almshouse (whether the latter were residents or paid workers remains unclear from the very generally captioned images).

Searching the Currier Collection

All of Currier's photographs are housed in LOT 11337. Very few of the individual photographs, which were printed from original glass negatives held by the Prints and Photographs Division, have been digitized or cataloged online. Onsite researchers can submit a call slip to view the collection.

Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection

Frances Benjamin Johnston's portraiture provides expansive coverage, particularly of Washington's elite set, much as her architectural and garden photography later did for the environments frequented by members of the upper class. One of Johnston's innovations, in fact, was to photograph individuals in the comfort of their homes, rather than in a strictly studio setting. (See full entry on Frances Benjamin Johnston.)

Arnold Genthe Collection

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Isadora Duncan portrait photograph. Arnold Genthe. Between 1916 and 1918. Prints and Photographs Division.
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Arnold Genthe maintained active portrait studios, first in San Francisco and, after 1911, in New York. He captured the visages of socially prominent women in both cities. The Arnold Genthe Collection (16,800 photos, 1896-1942) features the products of his prolific studio portrait work, his depictions of dancers such as Isadora Duncan, as well as his well-known photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown (which features scattered images of Chinese women and girls) and the aftermath of the city's 1906 earthquake.

For further information see the “About the Collection” link in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. For rights information, see

Searching the Genthe Collection

Catalog records for Genthe's negatives and transparencies can be found in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog where the collection has its own listing. Digitized images accompany the records.

The Division also holds some prints and albums of proofs by Genthe. Some of these have been grouped by subject matter and cataloged as LOTs. Onsite researchers can consult the Division Card Catalog and submit call slips to view this material.

Carl Van Vechten Collection

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Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald. Carl Van Vechten. 1940 Jan. 19. Prints and Photographs Division.
bibliographic record

The Carl Van Vechten Collection includes studio portraits of people involved in the arts, including many associated with the Harlem Renaissance (1,300 photographs, 1927-64).

For further information, see the “About the Collection” link in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. For rights information, see

Searching the Van Vechten Collection

Catalog records for all Van Vechten's photographs can be found in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog where the collection has its own listing. Digitized images accompany the records. The same materials are available in American Memory (see: Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964).

Go to the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC)

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