At the end of March, I told you that photographer Carol Highsmith was in Alabama, working on a project for the Library of Congress, the 21st Century America Collection. Her goal is to document in digital images life in each state so that future generations will have an idea of what America was like in the first decades of this century. These images will be copyright free, donated to the Library of Congress and placed in the public domain (see Is Carol M. Highsmith the Most Generous Artist of Our Time?).
Now I can show you what Carol Highsmith has been doing these past weeks. Make a detour over to 21st Century Alabama, where you’ll find over 200 of the 4,000 images she’s making (and remember, she arrived in February, just weeks ago: this woman works). Later this year, probably late summer, you’ll be able to find the George F. Landegger Alabama Collection on the Library of Congress site, as well. The photos in this post are a few examples from her Alabama shoots.
Why is it called the George F. Landeggar Alabama Collection? And who is George F. Landeggar?
Don’t assume that Carol started this massive project in Alabama because it comes first in an alphabetized list of US states: you would be wrong.
She’s in Alabama because of the generosity of George F. Landegger, who is funding the Alabama collection. I did a little googling and discovered that Landegger is, like Carol Highsmith, an admirably generous man.
He’s the Chairman of Parsons & Whittemore. Among its holdings is the Claiborne Mill Complex in Monroe County, Alabama, one of the world’s largest pulp and papermaking plants. Landegger has given back to that community in a number of ways.
He’s passionate about literacy and literature, and since its inception has funded the annual Harper Lee Award for distinguished Alabama writers [Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, is a resident of the county], as well as providing support and facilities for the Monroe County Adult Literacy Council, buying IBM’s Writing to Read computer labs for kindergarten students in three counties, and founding a community center, Our Place Youth and Family Center, to cite just a very few examples.
His philanthropy knows no boundaries, however. When Whole Child International, a foundation that seeks to improve the lives of children in orphanages and institutions worldwide, gave His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama its 2010 Whole Child International Humanitarian Award this past February, board member and supporter George Landegger made the presentation.
Meeting Carol Highsmith
I had the privilege and pleasure of being Carol’s dinner guest when she was in my town recently. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve met someone as enthusiastic and committed to her work as Carol is. She works non-stop, I believe, driving herself up and down the interstates and rural highways and backroads, hiking into caves and across fields with cameras in tow, and when the sun goes down entering details of the day’s shooting into a massive database. Everywhere she goes she runs into people who tell her great stories, and I got the impression that each image has its story. She attracts serendipity, if that is possible: fortunate coincidences ease her journey.
Now, I usually find it annoying when journalists as a matter of course include a person’s age in descriptions: what does it matter? But I’ve got to say, all through dinner I kept thinking I must be having a memory glitch of numeric dyslexia — didn’t I read somewhere that Carol Highsmith was born in 1946? Can’t be. Must be 1964. There is no way this woman can be 63 or 64, but 45, 46, that makes sense.
But I was wrong, or rather, I had been right. She was born in 1946.
Maybe it’s good genes, but I think her youthfulness comes of being so passionate about her work, which is all about seeing and cherishing and sharing.
When I first read about the Carol Highsmith Archive in the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, I was impressed with her decision to donate her works to the Library, “dedicating the rights to the American people.” Now I know firsthand that this decision of hers is consistent with a spirit of generosity that informs her way of encountering the world.
Just a quick googling of George Landeggar leaves me with the impression that he, too, is a very generous man.
And so it seems just right that these two found each other, and together are making this gift to the American people, a gift that will last as long as does the Library of Congress, freely available, just waiting to be found.
Pictures, all by Carol Highsmith:
Mardi Gras, Mobile AL
Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Montgomery AL
Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile AL