But they are fascinating nevertheless. The Historic American Buildings Survey(HAPS) and Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) archives began in the 1930s and 1960s, respectively, as “a comprehensive and continuous national survey.” Photographers are given strict guidelines dictating what cameras and film to use, which angles to take and how to correct for rectilinear distortion — an exceedingly detailed process by which highly ordinary structures are recorded for posterity, shot from multiple angles with painstaking focus and framing. The collections now house hundreds of thousands of images of mundane, vernacular structures, from New Jersey off-ramps to public housing in Honolulu. Large format film has a shelf life of over 500 years, which means that long after your digital image format has gone obsolete, these frames will still be intact.Browse through the LOC archives long enough and a pattern of subtle strangeness starts to emerge. Not mistakes per se — the process is too precise for that — but moments of serendipity which lend potency to individual photos. Dust kicked up from a passing car, the flat beauty of cold light on white concrete, an occasional appearance of people — art photographers likeStephen Shore and Alec Soth have made careers of this nothing aesthetic. But the HABS and HAER images possess none of the artist’s affect or pretense. Their bizarreness is uncalculated, a product of quiet functionality, not imposed sentiment.
All photos courtesy Library of Congress (more detail of © on source link).