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Prints and Photographs Division



Graphic Journalism and Illustration
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George Grantham Bain
Frances Benjamin Johnston
National Photo Company
Toni Frissell
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Look Magazine Photograph Collection
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“Fluoridation: Why All the Controversy?” Charlotte Brooks. April 1958. Prints and Photographs Division.
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The Look Magazine Photograph Collection (5,000,000 photographs, 1937-71) is the largest single collection in the division's holdings. It includes both color and black-and-white photographs—published and unpublished—accumulated by the magazine during its thirty-four-year history.

Look originally took the form of a tabloid-type publication, full of sensational coverage. The magazine shifted its focus, however, after World War II. Under the influence of Fleur Cowles, the wife of the publisher, Gardner “Mike” Cowles, Look began to be advertised as a biweekly for the whole family. The magazine made a concerted effort to appeal to women, particularly in their roles as consumers. One expression of this effort was the regularly featured “For Women Only” section, which highlighted consumer goods and services, frequently of the less conventional sort, such as women's spats and fur bikinis. As this suggests, the magazine blended the frivolous with the serious, not only covering fashion, food, celebrities, and popular culture, but also presenting more probing investigations of the civil rights struggle, health issues, education, and international affairs.

Coverage by Women

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One page of a Look magazine article titled “Flouridation: Why All the Controversy?,” William Attwood and Charlotte Brooks. June 24, 1958. Prints and Photographs Division.

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Aside from the influence exerted by Fleur Cowles and women editors such as Patricia Coffin, and despite the focus on women readers, Look was largely a male-dominated effort. Look's photography staff was composed primarily of men. Look documentation suggests that only four women ever worked on staff. Molly Tankanog and Dorothy “Dash” Taylor appear briefly in Look records for the period 1945-46, and Janet Mevi's name turns up for the period 1949-1952. Charlotte Brooks (b. 1918) stands out because of the length of time she worked as a staff photographer for the magazine (1952-1971) and because of the sheer volume and variety of the work she produced during her tenure. While Look hired very few women photographers for salaried positions, the company did commission a number of women, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, to carry out photographic work for the magazine.

Coverage of Women

Individuals: The magazine's coverage of women celebrities ranging from Lucille Ball to Gloria Steinem yields a wealth of portrait imagery for periods not well represented elsewhere in Prints and Photographs Division holdings. The visual coverage of individuals, both well known and unknown, often follows a “day in the life” approach, picturing a person through a number of her activities. For instance, Ruby Hurley's1957 tour of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) branches as the organization's Southeast regional secretary shows her encounters with everyone from a rural farmer to Lena Horne, as well as the more mundane aspects of her life on the road (LOOK—Job 57-7241).

Work: The archive exhibits the magazine's emphasis on women caring for their families and working in jobs traditionally occupied by women, such as nursing, teaching, and social work, but it also features women in some nontraditional roles, such as the woman police detective featured in a 1956 story (LOOK—Job 55-4033) and auto test-driver Betty Skelton undergoing exams to become an astronaut in 1959 (LOOK—Job 59-8504).

Vietnam War: The impact of the conflict in Vietnam on women's lives is reflected in photo assignments showing military wives, as well as photographs documenting antiwar protests.

Lifestyles, Roles, and Choices: Several sets of images delve into the availability of birth control. Others explore, more generally, the quality of American middle-class women's lives—a subject tackled, for instance, in the 1958 piece “America's New Middle West: St. Louis Woman” (LOOK—Job 58-7929). One assignment carried out in the early 1970s documented participants in the “Fascinating Womanhood” movement, a response to calls for women's liberation (LOOK—Job 70-5730).

Class and Race: Although the magazine directed itself to a middle-class audience and frequently focused on middle-class lifestyles, as early as the 1940s, Look attempted to illustrate the culture of America's less economically advantaged citizens, which at that time included many Native Americans, African Americans, and Puerto Ricans. From the mid-1960s onward, Look staff made a concerted effort not only to acknowledge the poverty in which some African Americans lived but also to highlight African Americans' inclusion in American society, with an emphasis on integrated schools and workplaces.

Comparing Published and Unpublished Images

The magazine aimed to inform, but not necessarily to shock its readers. Because the Look photo archive includes both published and unpublished images, it is possible to gather evidence about editorial selection practices in examining the materials. For instance, photographer Al Clayton's hard-hitting coverage of the poverty-stricken Pilgrim family in Yazoo County, Mississippi (LOOK—Job 67-3368), numbered in the hundreds of images, of which eight were chosen to illustrate the article “Poverty: The Hungry World of Teresa Pilgrim,” (Look, December 26, 1967; available on microfilm in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room, as well as in hard copy in the General Collections; AP2.L79).

Despite its lack of caption information or other textual documentation for unpublished images, the Look Magazine Photograph Collection offers potential for exploring how the magazine presented American culture to its readers, and particularly to women readers, in the middle decades of the twentieth century.

For rights information pertaining to the Look Magazine Photograph Collection, see:

Searching the Collection

Photos created for issues from 1952-1971 are available. They include:

  • published black-and-white material
  • unpublished black-and-white material (mostly reproduced as “contact sheets”—photographic prints that reproduce multiple negatives or 35-millimeter negative strips on a single sheet)
  • published color images
  • unpublished color images

Catalog records in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog enable researchers to retrieve descriptions of “jobs” (groups of images made for a particular assignment) by subject, or photographer, or the title of the Look articles in which images from the job appeared. The collection has its own listing in the online catalog.

The Look images have not been digitized. Researchers submit call slips to view the photographs in the reading room. Jobs that consist only of negatives (that is, they feature no published images and no contact sheets) cannot be viewed in the reading room, but they can be ordered through the Photoduplication Service.

Go to the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC)

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