Carol Highsmith
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My Story

Cameras have been a part of my life from the moment I first blinked my eyes – though the truth is ... at first I didn’t pay much attention to them!

Everywhere we went, my dad photographed me and my sister Sara with an old Kodak and then a Super8 movie camera.

Every time, we’d complain, “Oh pleeease!” But when I’d put on my cowgirl hat and strum my ukulele, there he’d be ... clicking away! He'd take us to cold, cold Lake Superior ... and keep us there till we turned blue almost ... so that HE could get just the right shots.
Many years later, when I finally picked up a camera, it felt so natural ... and fun!

In the ’70s, I traveled a lot ... to far-away places such as Siberia and China. A friend lent me a camera – a Pentax K1000 – to take along. I barely knew where the shutter button was. I just looked at the exotic new world around me and clicked away.
And I surprised myself! Turns out, I brought home some pretty neat images.

That was it! I was changed forever.

I said to myself:

I HAVE to make this my life.

So I went to the Corcoran – a really fine school of art in Washington, D.C. My first assignment was to document the restoration of the Willard Hotel, two blocks from the White House. It was once so prestigious, they called it the “Hotel of Presidents.” But by then it was an abandoned hulk.

It was there that I first saw the astonishing images of Frances Benjamin Johnston, a pioneer female photographer who had also shot in the Willard Hotel 75 years earlier. She had donated her life’s work to the Library of Congress.

Well, that was it!
I was inspired and energized by her work, and her generosity, and I was determined to follow in her footsteps. I, too, would give my work to our great national library — with no stipulations or restrictions, just as Frances did.

I also started to work on getting my college degree. It took me eighteen years of night classes on top of my day jobs and separate photography studies to at last get my college degree. I was bound and determined to get that diploma — to do what I said I would do. To my very good fortune, I was admitted to what American University called the “APEL program,” short for Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning, from which I earned many credits for assignments and presentations describing my dreams and aspirations and life experiences. To this day, when young people ask me for advice, I tell them: “Aim high. Be the best you can be at what you do. And stick to it. Finish what you start.’

44 years later, my collection at the national library that we treasure has grown to 85,000 - and is expected to reach 100,000 this year. They’re yours to study, use as you please, and enjoy.

This is important work, I think – capturing our moment in time, just as Frances and Dorothea Lange and others did in theirs.

I am living my dream,

all across our
Sweet Land of Liberty

— Carol M. Highsmith