Is a photograph art? Is it a scientific tool? Or is it, with the advent of smartphones, simply another way to communicate with each other?

Whichever idea you find yourself agreeing with, we know one thing is true: The practice of photography is old now, almost 180 years old including the cyanotypes shown above. And with age comes the death of copyright. This month, the New York Public Library announced the release of thousands of documents, including historical photographs, that the public is free to use or display. Among those photographs are some pretty famous photos and portfolios by some talented individuals.

We thought it might be a good idea to highlight a few of them for the budding collector or student of photography. We know you know the “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange, but you may not know the work of Carl Mydans who took the famous photograph of Gen. Douglas MacArthur landing on the beaches of the Philippines. Paul Strand was championed by Alfred Stieglitz in his Gallery 291. Edward Curtis brought the lives of Native Americans to life in poetic ways, a body of work held in high esteem by the art world. Berenice Abbott’s work documenting how New York changed during the early part of the 20th century, as Eugene Atget did in Paris,  is a powerful model of storytelling. Lewis Hine’s photographs helped to enact child labor laws in this country.

Each of the photographers shown here contributed to the history of photography in meaningful ways. Many of their photographs can be viewed  and downloaded at digitalcollections.nypl.org.

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