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Exhibitions: Anne Wilkes Tucker Finds Treasures, and America's History, at the Library of Congress

By Gina Williams   Friday June 15, 2018

For nearly two years, Anne Wilkes Tucker, Curator Emerita of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, practically lived at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. She was searching for buried treasure.

Tucker, who was named “America’s Best Curator” by Time in 2001, said she spent about two weeks per month at the Library, carefully excavating a collection of stunning images that document special moments in American culture and history.

She eventually selected 440 rare images for “Not an Ostrich: And Other Images from America’s Library,” an exhibition on display at Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles through September 9.

The show represents three centuries of photography (1800s, 1900s, 2000s), simultaneously telling America’s story through evocative imagery, while revealing the evolution of photography itself — from daguerreotypes, the first publicly available photographic process, to contemporary digital images.

Tucker estimates she looked at least 1 million images out of the library’s collection of 14 million photographs during the project.

“My biggest goal was representing the library, its mission and holdings, to the best of my parameters,” she said. “Nothing would please me more if some previously unknown images become popular.”

The exhibition’s name, "Not an Ostrich," refers to an actual image included in the collection — a photo of actress Isla Bevan holding a “Floradora Goose” at the 41st Annual Poultry Show at Madison Square Garden — and hints at the unexpected and unusual artifacts collected at the Library of Congress over its 218-year history, some of which are on display inside the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Harry Houdini, 1908, by John Thurston

"Floradora goose" at 41st annual Poultry Show, Madison Square Garden, 1930

Refugees of Mississippi River Flood, Vicksburg, MS, 1927, by Felix Koch


The images — displayed both physically and digitally — include works by Sharon Farmer, Donna Ferrato, Carol M. Highsmith, Danny Lyon, Camilo José Vergara, and Will Wilson, who is also featured in the exhibition’s original documentary produced by the Annenberg Foundation in partnership with Arclight Productions.

Among Tucker’s finds are images of the Wright brothers’ first flight; the earliest known portrait of Harriet Tubman; a photograph of Harry Houdini bound in chains for a magic trick; an image oj John Lennon and Yoko Ono; scenes from Vietnam war protests; and an image from a 1920 Ku Klux Klan rally near Washington, D.C. Given last year’s violent rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, noted Tucker, the photograph is more than a memento of America’s past.

“When we selected that picture, it was history,” she said. “Now it has contemporary significance.”

Ku Klux Klan assembly, 1920


“The Library of Congress not only collects and preserves America’s cultural heritage but also works to make those comprehensive collections accessible to as many people as possible. I am so thrilled about this opportunity to present the Library’s rich photography collection at the Annenberg Space for Photography,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “I hope photography and history enthusiasts around Los Angeles and beyond who visit this unprecedented exhibition will have their curiosity piqued about all that is available to them at their national library.”

Frontier Days arena, Cheyenne, WY, 2017, by Carol M. Highsmith

Ray Weishaar, winner of 100-mile race, Norton, KS, by Charles E. Reed


“Not an Ostrich” marks the first time an exhibition of this scale, featuring a selection of photographs from the Library of Congress, has been displayed on the West Coast. It represents a fraction of the Library’s full collection of photographs and serves as a way for visitors to rediscover one of America’s most important cultural institutions.

Beatrice Fergerson, age 97, Washington, DC, 1990, by Sharon Farmer

View east from Exchange Place, Jersey City, New Jersey, 1977, by Camilo Jose Vergara

New York Book Campaign for military personnel, 1919, by Abel & Company

“What a pleasure and an honor it was to work with the Library of Congress selecting these photographs. Glamour, worship, invention, bravery, humor, cruelty and love — this collection of photographs preserves all examples of our humanity as well as chronicling America’s history in extraordinary photographs. The Library is an inexhaustible trove available for anyone to explore,” Tucker said.

The exhibition is free and open to the public. It runs through September 9, 2018 and is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 AM to 6 PM, at the Annenberg Space for Photography (2000 Avenue of the Stars Los Angeles, CA 90067).

For more information visit: https://www.annenbergphotospace.org/exhibits/not-an-ostrich
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At top: Hon. Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, February 1865, by Lewis Emory Walker. All images from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

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