Now you can buy a Mathew Brady portrait, or an Ansel Adams landscape or a Dorothea Lange dust-bowl print for less than $5.
You can preview your selection at the newly opened American Image show in the National Archives. The 191 prints on exhibit were selected from over 5 million images that the Archives has in its collection. Eight by ten prints from the show, and from all other Archives photographs, are for sale for $4.65. Plan on four weeks for delivery.
The price is right because the rights to the photographs belong to the federal government, or to be more exact, to all of us.
The images, all by American photographers, cover 100 years -- from the construction of the Capitol to the battlefields of the Civil War, to the hard life on farms, the grandeur of the national parks and the funeral of President Kennedy.
Some of the photographers are big names, but for more than half the prints, the photographer is unknown.
"We are hoping that the unidentified photographers who made the pictures will come to the show and say to us, 'Hey that's my picture,'" says Caryl Marsh, exhibit curator.
Marsh says that the idea of the show was to "let Americans see a national treasure," of vintage albumin prints from the 19th century and new silver prints.
The images in this show are strong and the print quality is exceptional. It's an exhibit which exceeds the standards of many commercial galleries.
The nicely framed, well-lit show is marred, however, by tasteless floor-to-ceiling enlargements of some of the photographs. hThese poster-like prints section off groups of photographs and are jarring next to their exquisite neighbors.
Marsh says that the Archives carefully printed the negatives full-frame so that the photographers's total picture is shown. But in the exhibit's catalogue, which goes for $10, pictures are cropped to fit a layout. Worse, they are so poorly reproduced that the tonal range of the photograph is reduced to a grey mush. Use the catalogue as a souvenir and not as a photo book.
Better yet, buy two prints and skip the catalogue.