The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
While the Smithsonian Institution is perhaps better known for its museums that pepper the landscape of the National Mall in Washington DC, its devotion to scientific research easily matches its dedication to collecting, preserving, and displaying artifacts of cultural and historical importance. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) started off as a small field station on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal Zone in 1923 and flourished, becoming one of the world’s preeminent scientific facilities committed to understanding biological diversity.
Carl Hansen—a photographer for, and later the director of Smithsonian Photographic Services—worked at STRI between 1985 and 1992, documenting the work of Smithsonian scientists. During those seven years, he captured roughly ten thousand images that are as varied as the work and specimens he documented. These photographs include breathtaking aerial views, vibrant underwater shots, intimate portraits of flora and fauna, and documentary accounts of the education and conservation work that takes place on Barro Colorado Island.
This compelling body of work is a rich and valuable resource, made easily penetrable due to the detailed descriptions Carl recorded for each image. At the Archives, we are currently working to catalog and make available this substantial contribution to scientific endeavor. For now, please enjoy this slideshow, which was selected to illustrate the breadth of this exquisite and instructive group of images.