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American Women: Resources from the Prints & Photographs Collections

Understanding Pictures and Picture Collections

Arnold Genthe, photographer. Woman with red hair wearing a blue robe or gown looking at a portrait painting of a woman. 1906 and 1942.
Arnold Genthe, photographer. Woman with red hair wearing a blue robe or gown looking at a portrait painting of a woman . Between 1906 and 1942. Genthe Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Taking into account how pictures are made, the purpose they were made for, and how they are described once they arrive at the Library of Congress can help you work effectively with both search tools that enable you to locate pictures and with the pictures themselves. This section of the guide introduces concepts, tools and techniques that apply to Prints & Photographs Division collections in general.

  • Scope of the Collections
    A summary of the scope and major strengths of the Prints & Photographs holdings, which is partially explained by the sources from which the collections have been amassed.
  • Researching Images
    Research tips for finding images in the Prints and Photographs Division and elsewhere in the Library of Congress and for interpreting the images, once they are found.
  • Exploring Contexts
    A brief discussion of one of the division's best-known images, “Migrant Mother”, which illustrates factors that can affect the creation and interpretation of an image or set of images.
  • Picture Processes: A Chronology
    The technology that is used to produce an image can influence how it comes out looking. This brief overview of different picture-producing methods provides a basis for understanding the terminology used in this guide and may help in looking for and understanding different types of images.
  • Using the Collections
    An overview of how Prints & Photographs Division collections are organized and accessed and where to get help, in the form of reference aids and librarian assistance.
  • Evolving Conventions for Describing and Indexing Images
    To the extent that a lot of image searching requires using words, this discussion of how words get associated with images as they are described—and how this has changed over time—can help make searching more effective.