Friday, August 10, 2012

The Nation's Photo Album

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on covers and the fine art of finding legal images to repurpose for them. So what do you do, if you need pictures for a blog, website, or cover and want to avoid getting sued? Shutterstock or the equivalent makes sense for a cover, but most indie writers can’t afford a subscription just to keep pictures flowing onto their blog.

In addition to some emerging solutions, like the new WANA Commons (check out Kristen Lamb’s blog for that one) and the invaluable Wikimedia Commons, a little digging reveals quite a few institutions that are happy to let you use their images in return for no more than an acknowledgment.

I’ll address most of these in a second post. Today I want to concentrate on the site I always check first, the absolute top of the tree for low-budget publishers: the U.S. Library of Congress, which allows you to use any image, even in print, so long as you credit the library (“Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress” will do). The nation’s attic, as it is called, has over 1 million digital images from all over the world classified into seventy or so collections of pictures and photographs, as well as a separate collection of audio files (called the National Jukebox). You can find the list of print and photograph collections at

The Library of Congress has collections of, among other things:
  • African American photographs assembled for the Paris Exposition of 1900, as well as the separate Gladstone Collection of African American photographs;
  • Ansel Adams’ photographs of the World War II internment camp at Manzanar;
  • architecture, design, and engineering drawings;
  • baseball cards;
  • the Brumfield Collection (1,100 photographs of classic Russian architecture);
  • caricatures and cartoons (American and British);
  • Civil War (U.S.) prints;
  • photographs from the Crimean War, 1853–56;
  • daguerrotypes;
  • the full  archive of the Detroit Publishing Company;
  • drawings of many varieties;
  • fine prints, including a set of Japanese prints, pre-1915;
  • the Korab Collection (800 photographs of Eero Saarinen’s buildings);
  • the Lomax Collection (rural United States);
  • the Matson Collection (Middle East, 1878–1946);
  • panoramic photographs;
  • photographs from the Ottoman Empire, 1880–1893, showing its modernization;
  • posters associated with the performing arts, graphic arts, Spanish Civil War, World War I, and more;
  • Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii’s original color (not colorized!) photographs of the Russian Empire, including pictures of the royal family, ca. 1915; and
  • negatives showing the Wright brothers flying their plane.
Specific collections may have restrictions, but you can find out what they are when you access an image. In most cases, “fair use” rules apply. The library gives specific information on whom to contact and under what circumstances: just click on the “Obtaining Copies” tab.

You can find additional images at and  The Folklife Collection includes documents, songs, and interviews; the Exhibits have documents as well as pictures. The Library of Congress also hosts international collections, the American History and Culture collection (maps, documents), the Performing Arts Collection, THOMAS (the searchable database of bills, Congressional Record, etc.), the Historic Newspapers Collection, the digitized first-person stories in the Veterans History Collection, and more. For those, go to and click on Digital Collections.

New collections are added frequently. And everything is available to the public. These are your tax dollars at work. So feel free to use them, because they are a precious resource, and their continued existence, in effect, depends on people like us.


  1. This is amazing! I had no idea there that many resources for photos. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for an excellent resource collection. I never realized that there were so many!! I wonder if there are any such for Indus Valley Civilisation?

  3. Thank you for the information, C.P.!

  4. Shankar, you might check the International Collections at the Library of Congress. Some hold more documents than images, but they are a place to start.

    There are also a number of other places that may be better for your interests; I will include those in my next post (but I did provide a sneak preview over at WANATribe's Bloggers Unite!).

  5. I'll also add that the most U.S. government sites will allow you to use their photos, like DOD. You just have to read their media requirements, though you may find some photos that have limited licenses.

  6. Great resources. Thanks for sharing.


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