Art I 16.03.17 I by

Explore America’s libraries via these panoramic portraits

Photographer Thomas R Schiff has trained his lens on the hallowed halls of America’s greatest cultural institutes for his new project, The Library Exhibition.

‘I became fascinated by how the history of the United States is reflected in our civic buildings,’ says the photographer. ‘How the great old libraries on the East Coast, of two centuries ago, evolved into dynamic, contemporary public spaces like the Seattle Public Library, or the Salt Lake City library.’

Thomas R Schiff: The Library Book
Thomas R Schiff, Lincoln Public Library, Illinois, 2009; from The Library Book (Aperture, 2017)

In pre-revolution America, libraries were the private stomping grounds of the elite before Benjamin Franklin founded the first public lending library in 1790. Since then, these structures have become the cornerstones of community life across the country, and the world’s leading architects have turned their hands to designing them.

Schiff’s exhibition of panoramic photographs is accompanied by a book published via Aperture, which traces 300 years of the library’s evolution in America, from Edward Clarke Cabot and Henry Forbes Bigelow’s Boston Anthenæum to Louis Kahn’s Modernist Phillips Exeter Academy Library in New Hampshire.

Thomas R Schiff: The Library Book
Thomas R Schiff, Boston Athenaeum, 2010; from The Library Book (Aperture, 2017)

‘The camera distorts everything in the picture – straight lines become curved and it throws off your perspective,’ says Schiff. ‘It challenges your relationship to what is familiar or thought to be understood.’

‘The Library Exhibition: Photography by Thomas R Schiff’ runs until 20 April at New York’s Aperture Gallery and its accompanying tome ‘The Library Book’ is available now.

Read next: Rebooting the library for the 21st century

Commissioning editor at The Spaces.

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