"Not an Ostrich," Courtesy of the Library of Congress
"Not an Ostrich;" Courtesy of the Library of Congress

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Not an Ostrich at the Library of Congress

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s fitting, then, that the Library of Congress, a place known for housing more words than any other institution, also has loads of photos—about 15 million, to be precise. For the first time ever, the library is putting a selection of those photos on display in Not an Ostrich: And Other Images From America’s Library. Organized by the Annenberg Foundation, LoC’s massive collection was whittled down to a mere 400 images for the exhibit, with approximately 70 reproductions of them hanging in the library’s stunning Jefferson building, and the rest of them living in slideshows throughout the show and online. The exhibit’s strange title comes from a 1930 photo of actor Isla Bevan, elegantly styled in pearls, holding a fuzzy bird that appears to be an ostrich. The twist? It’s not—it’s actually the “floradora goose,” on display at the Annual Poultry Show at Madison Square Garden. The photo is in similarly odd and whimsical company. Another from the 1970s shows two ballerinas sharing one long, stretchy leotard—a “duotard,” used in choreographer Bella Lewitzky’s dance, Inscape. The exhibit’s most joyful image might be Sharon Farmer’s 1990 snap of Beatrice Fergerson, 97, twirling a hula hoop around her hips in her North Brentwood front yard. The collection also features the historic (an off-centered portrait of a young man is revealed to be Robert Cornelius taking the “first selfie” in 1839—he had to sit still for over 10 minutes to do so), the iconic (Dorothea Lange’s famous Depression era image of Florence Owens Thompson with children by her side), and the disturbing (a 1964 image taken by Danny Lyon of a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee photographer being attacked by the police). Every photo in Not an Ostrich stands alone as a fascinating window into a moment in time. Taken together, the exhibit’s images tell the story of photographic technology, and the story of America—sometimes breathtaking, sometimes vile, always riveting. Not an Ostrich is on display from through 2024 at Library of Congress, 10 First St. SE. loc.gov. Free.