From Harriet Tubman to the Kennedys: Famous photos set for West Coast debut

The earliest known image of Harriet Tubman. JFK and Jackie on their wedding day. The Wright brothers’ first flight.

Those are just some of the treasured images the largest library in the world has sent to the West Coast for visitors to the Annenberg Space for Photography to enjoy.

The selections, from the Library of Congress’ expansive collection of photographs, traveled from Washington to Los Angeles for the “Not an Ostrich: And Other Images from America’s Library” exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography, opening Saturday.

The exhibit’s namesake photo, “Not an Ostrich,” depicts actress Isla Bevan holding a goose (not an ostrich) at the 41st Annual Poultry Show in New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1930.

Californians and visitors will have close-up access to some of the country’s most iconic photography: a carte-de-visite of seated underground railroad leader Harriet Tubman in the late 1860s; Dorothea Lange’s 1936 “Migrant Mother” image, which has come to symbolize the Great Depression; an intimate snapshot of John F. Kennedy and Jackie Bouvier on their wedding day in 1953; the Wright brothers’ first flight, in 1903; and Harry Houdini doing a magic trick in 1908.

The exhibit also features images depicting the everyday American experience.

The collection “marks the first time an exhibit of this scale featuring a selection of photographs from the Library of Congress has been displayed on the West Coast,” per the Annenberg Space.

Curator Anne Wilkes Tucker pored over the library’s collection of 14 million photos, selecting about 500 for the exhibit after personally looking at around 1 million.

The celebrated Houston-based curator traveled to Washington one to two weeks a month over the course of about 18 months.

“I got paid to look at photographs, which is the joy of my life,” she told CNN in a recent interview. “My first priority was what I thought was a strong picture. My second priority was thinking about why the library had acquired this and how it relates to American history. My third priority was trying to balance the representation of the library.”

Her goal, she said, was to showcase the best of the best images the Library of Congress has collected since photography was invented in 1839, and represent the US population and experience in the decades that have passed.

Wilkes Tucker calls the exhibition a “sample of America.”

“It’s like a treasure box: You keep reaching in and you pull something else out,” she said.

The photography in the exhibit includes a diverse range of portraits, as well as social, political, business, geographical and scientific images, a picture of the United States from the daguerreotype to the digital age.

“I tried to represent everything: patriotism, the tough pictures,” Wilkes Tucker said. “I want the variety to be so great that everybody can find a picture that they love, and it would be even better if the picture makes them curious.”

It’s Wilkes Tucker’s hope that the exhibit encourages a new population to take advantage of the resources of the Library of Congress, which has a vast digital archive in addition to its physical headquarters. The exhibit will also feature special programming, interactive workshops and partnerships to further highlight the library.

“The library is just such a gift — it’s a gift to the American people,” she said.

The exhibit runs through September 9.