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In the course of her training at the Corcoran in Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith took up the challenge of documenting the restoration of the nearby Willard Hotel. In addition to the experience it gave her in capturing architecture and architectural detail, it introduced her to the work of Frances Benjamin Johnston, who had photographed the Willard Hotel 75 years earlier. Inspired by Johnston's documentary drive and her donation of her life's work to the Library of Congress, Highsmith has undertaken a mission to photograph sites and culture around the United States and to give her work to the national library and its users.
Highsmith's growing archive now numbers more than 60,000 images, including locations in nearly every state in the union, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The built environment is a primary focus. She has also documented local festivals, foodways, business enterprises, and community activities. Highsmith has remarked, "This is important work, I think – capturing our moment in time, just as Frances and Dorothea Lange and others did in theirs."
Coverage of women includes images of women's spaces, such woman's club buildings in Richmond, Virginia, and Little Rock, Arkansas, landmarks associated with individual women, as well as women shown in a variety of business enterprises, work and residential settings, everyday activities, local events, and more widespread movements, such as the 2017 Women's March.
Highsmith originally photographed on color transparency film, which has been digitized. She moved on to digital photography. All of the photographs, with caption information she also contributes, are available online. Library staff add standard indexing for geographic locations to enhance access.