A woman poses in a tree during the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington in 1939. (Library of Congress)

A man photographs the cherry blossoms across the Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington in the 1940s. (Martha McMillan Roberts/Library of Congress)

It smelled like spring. It looked like spring. It felt like spring. Not only was this past Saturday considered peak bloom for Washington’s cherry blossoms, it was a balmy spring day. But walking around the Tidal Basin on Saturday, pedestrians had to weave past more than just the fluffy pink flowers that overcame the freezing temperatures of a late-season winter storm just days earlier. Selfie-ing teens, face-timing families and professional photographers were everywhere.

Ducking under branches and crouching under Instagramers may seem like a modern dilemma, but the tradition of photographing the blossoms is as old as the trees themselves. While photography has been around since the early 1800s, the Brownie, the first mass-market camera, was introduced in 1901 — 11 years before Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo gave the city of Washington 3,000 cherry trees.  While the trees were intended to symbolize the long-lasting friendship between the United States and Japan, they have also served as fodder for shutterbugs near and far.

Washington held its first Cherry Blossom Festival in 1934, but even before then, the annual bloom attracted people and photographers. From newlyweds clad in evening attire to girls in flowery dresses and puppies with flowers on their collars, these Library of Congress photos show that while the photography technology has changed, much has stayed the same. The perennial click-click-click of camera shutters — even if just an electronically produced sound — is as much a tradition as the canopy of blossoms itself.


Girls pose for a photo during the Cherry Blossom Festival in 1937. (Library of Congress)

A man adjusts his camera before photographing the blossoms in April 1943. (Esther Bubley/Library of Congress)

People photograph the blossoms across the Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossom Festival in the 1940s. (Martha McMillan Roberts/Library of Congress)

A woman poses on the railing at the Tidal Basin in March 1936. (Library of Congress)

A family poses for a portrait on April 8, 1936. (Library of Congress)

A photographer shows his work during the Cherry Blossom Festival in the 1940s. (Martha McMillan Roberts/Library of Congress)

While photographers line up their shots of the blossoms in April 1922, an artist works on his sketch to their left. (Library of Congress)

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