Thursday, August 29, 2019

Prickly pictures from the U.S. Library of Congress

Last week, somewhere on the internet, I stumbled on a black-and-white photo of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo standing next to an enormous agave. The image was striking—beautifully composed and hauntingly expressive. Is Frida saying hello? Or goodbye? Is she sad? Or just pensive? The fact that there's a gigantic Agave salmiana in the frame makes the picture even more memorable, at least for me.

Toni Frissell: Frida Kahlo (Señora Diego Rivera) standing next to an agave plant, during a photo shoot for Vogue magazine, “Señoras of Mexico”, 1937
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Toni Frissell Collection, LC-F9-01-3707-25 -8

What caught my attention beyond the image itself was the credit line: “Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.” A quick Google search led me to the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC), which contains about 1.2 million digitized images, many in the public domain. 

I ran two searches, for “agave” and for “cactus,” and found not only Frida Kahlo's agave images but also a bunch of others that caught my eye for one reason or another. Here's a sampling of what I discovered.
A few more images of Frida Kahlo and “her” agave from this 1937 photoshoot for Vogue:

Toni Frissell: Frida Kahlo (Señora Diego Rivera) standing next to an agave plant, during a photo shoot for Vogue magazine, “Señoras of Mexico”, 1937
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Toni Frissell Collection, LC-F9-01-3707-25 -3

Toni Frissell: Frida Kahlo (Señora Diego Rivera) holding the leaf of an agave plant, during a photo shoot for Vogue magazine, “Señoras of Mexico”, 1937
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Toni Frissell Collection, LC-F9-01-3707-25 -7

In contrast to Frida Kahlo, who is standing next to the agave and is touching it with tenderness, the man in the next photo has climbed into the center of the agave to make himself look bigger and more important. Look at me!, he seems to proclaim, I'm the boss around here. And this is mine, all mine!

William Henry Jackson: Man in maguey, Mexico, between 1880 and 1900
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-det-4a27386

In public and private gardens, cacti and agaves were subjects of neverending fascination in the early 1900s, probably because of their “uncouth forms:”

Uncouth plant forms, cactus beds of San Bernadino, Cal., c1906
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Universal View Co., Publishers, LC-DIG-stereo-1s10543

William Herman Rau: Beauties that delight the eye, Fairmount Park, Phila., Pa., U.S.A., 1902
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-40406

Wealthy cactus aficionados who weren't able grow the “beauties that delight the eye” outside simply built massive conservatories:

Cacti, Phipps (Schenley Park) Conservatory, Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, Pa., between 1900 and 1910
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection, LC-DIG-det-4a18549

The Mexican embassy in Washington, DC had a collected of potted cacti:

Mexican ambassador Don Manuel Tellez standing amidst potted cacti in the embassy's conservatory, Washington, D.C., c1925
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-136706


While some were focused on domesticating cacti, Native Americans, especially in the Southwest, continued to rely on them for their survival. Their rapidly vanishing life was captured with sensitivity and compassion by the great Edward Curtis:

Edward Curtis: Saguaro fruit gatherers—Maricopa, c1907
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Edward S. Curtis Collection, LC-USZ62-111943

Edward Curtis: Maricopa women gathering fruit from Saguaro cacti, c1907
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Edward S. Curtis Collection, LC-USZ62-101181

Edward Curtis: Gathering hasen—Qahatika, c1907
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Vergara Photograph Collection, LC-USZ62-111942

Edward Curtis: Gathering hanamh - Papago woman picking cactus fruit with wooden stick, Arizona, c1907
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Edward S. Curtis Collection, LC-USZ62-111283

In Mexico and Central America, agaves and cacti were cultivated as crops:

William Henry Jackson: View in Ixtapalapa, Mexico, between 1880 and 1897
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-det-4a27195

Pulque gatherers and fuel vendor, in a cactus lane, San Juan Teotihuacan, Mexico, c1903
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-74569

William Henry Jackson: Maguey Field, between 1880 and 1897
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-det-4a0369

William Henry Jackson: Gathering sisal, Nassau, Bahama Islds., c1900
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-det-4a08912


Other photos show agaves and cacti in the wild, with humans merely passing through:

K.T Dodge: Woman standing among century plants in southeastern Arizona, c1899
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, photograph by Katherine Taylor Dodge, LC-USZ62-115674

William Henry Jackson: On the road to Barranca, between 1880 and 1897
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-det-4a18549


You even find cacti in places where you wouldn't necessarily expect them, for example in Jerusalem:

Frank Mason Good: The Golden Gate, Jerusalem, between 1856 and 1860
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04558


Or in political illustrations:

W.A. Rogers: A sensitive plant, 1916?
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Alfred Bendiner Memorial Collection, LC-DIG-ds-03468

The Pershing “punitive” expedition: well named, 1916?
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Alfred Bendiner Memorial Collection, LC-USZ62-130777


As we move into the contemporary period, we see stylized versions of the cactus (most often the saguaro) pop up in urban environments:

Lee Russell: Cactus light standard in front of hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, 1940
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USF34-036182-D

John Margolies: Cactus Motel sign, Aurora, Colorado, 1990
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, photograph by John Margolies, LC-DIG-mrg-08398

John Margolies: Cactus Inn Motel, sign, Route 66, McLean, Texas, 1982
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, photograph by John Margolies, LC-DIG-mrg-11736

John Margolies: Stone cave with cactus, Wacky Golf, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 1979
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, photograph by John Margolies, LC-DIG-mrg-03469

Carol Highsmith: Metal-art saguaro cactus outside the Gila Bend Cactus-'n'-Stuff gift shop in Gila Bend, Arizona, named for the Gila River, not the large, venomous gila monster lizard, 2018
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, LC-DIG-highsm- 49762

Classic neon sign in Tucson, Arizona, near the “Miracle Mile” gateway of what were once classic motor courts with distinctive neon signs in the days of two-lane, cross-country family travel, 2018 
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, LC-DIG-highsm- 49332

Mexican culture continues to celebrate them:

Camilo Vergara: Rigo's Tacos #4, Firestone Blvd. at Bandera St., LA, 1997 
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Vergara Photograph Collection, LC-DIG-vrg-07317

Carol Highsmith: The “Goddess of Agave” mural, painted by Rock “Cyfi” Martinez in 2017 as part of the Tucson, Arizona, Mural Arts Program, 2018
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, LC-DIG-highsm- 49366

In the future, maybe we'll go from pictorial symbols to plain words:

Carol Highsmith: The Agave branch of the Phoenix Public Library in Phoenix, Arizona, 2018
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, LC-DIG-highsm- 49800


I have a feeling that, like Wikipedia, the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog of the Library of Congress is a rabbit hole. Once you dive in, you may find it hard to get out.



© Gerhard Bock, 2019. All rights reserved. No part of the materials available through www.succulentsandmore.com may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of Gerhard Bock. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States and international copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Gerhard Bock. 

If you are reading this post on a website other than www.succulentsandmore.com, please be advised that that site is using my content without my permission. Please report such unlawful use to me at gerhard[AT]succulentsandmore[DOT]com. Thank you!

6 comments:

  1. What fun post! A treasure trove of the past. The size of many of the saguaros and agave are impressive. In a world where we like to miniaturize everything it's cool to see the giants.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a fun post! I wonder why we didn’t think to have me pose standing in the middle of one of the RGB or Lotusland agaves when you were taking my author photo? Missed opportunity for sure. Oh and that lady “just passing through” the field of blooming agaves by KT Dodge... she looks like she’s wearing an Agave on her head!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Frida Kahlo did Vogue - with an agave - astounding! All your photographic finds are wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wonderful collection of photos, thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  5. What a treasure trove, and in the public domain too! The Mexican embassy photo is wonderful -- no idea that ambassadors had that kind of latitude.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow, these are fabulous. Glad you got down the rabbit hole and shared !

    ReplyDelete