Library of Congress
Millions of Free Images and Illustrations
You’re a writer. Looking for an image, an illustration, a graphic that will illuminate your prose.
You have the choice of the usual contemporary online stock image companies that might work. Of course, there’s a cost for licensing and maybe even usage restrictions.
There is another source, often overlooked, that has millions of images from all over the world. And it’s free.
The adventure begins at www.loc.gov/pictures/ When I first discovered it, I spent hours just wandering around among the various collections and cabinets. Baseball cards, the National Child Labor Committee Collection, the Thesaurus for Graphic Materials. Most of the material is available free and can be reused (rather than just one-time use). In some cases, reproductions or scans of entire books are available.
The only drawback is that the images tend to be ‘historic”—scenes from the past. Like scans of Aaron Copeland’s music sheets, photos of government employees repairing trucks from 1937, overdressed ladies at the dedication of the Hank Aaron Boyhood Home Museum in Mobile, AL.
Shape-shifting witches, flying on a pitchfork, causing a thunderstorm. Artist unknown. From “De Lamiis et Pythonicis Mulieribus,” 1489. Rare Book and Special Collections Division. (click the link to see the pages of this 70-page hand lettered manuscript.)
Ken Burns, creator of the multi-part PBS documentary series on subjects ranging from the Civil War to Jackie Robinson, uses images and film from the Library of Congress files for most of the visuals in his productions. He has teamed with The Better Angels Society, the Library of Congress, and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation to create the annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film.
One of the most recognizable collections are the black and white Dorothea Lange photos shot in 1936 for the Farm Security Administration from the era of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. “Migrant Mother” has been used countless times in books and films. The image appears in Jacklyn Landis’ Promise of the Road published by Hallard Press.