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There’s always something interesting about history—it’s often just a matter of knowing where to find it.

That’s the idea behind Shorpy.com, an eye-popping collection of historical imagery that casts a modern light on an astonishing array of photographs long-hidden in the Library of Congress archives. Named after a 12-year-old coal miner in a picture by the great Lewis Hine, Shorpy.com offers new, high-definition life to old images, restoring the often-breathtaking detail found in the original negatives: the uneven, rutted cobbles on a 1908 Philadelphia street, or the slight hint of alarm in the eye of a test pilot about to fly an aircraft in 1911.

In the last decade, the Library began digitizing specific sets of images in their 13-million-photo strong collection. Soon after, Dave Hall, the co-founder of Shorpy.com, began exploring their archives. Previously a Style editor at the Washington Post, Hall wasn’t especially interested in historical images until late one night, when he discovered several photographs of early 20th-century child laborers. Taken by Lewis Hine on an 8×10 view camera, Hall was amazed at the pictures’ clarity — sparkling with far more detail than a standard 35mm frame. Wondering why he had never before seen such strikingly detailed historical imagery, Hall took it upon himself to post the photos online, in high-resolution — an endeavor simplified by the LOC’s public-domain image rights.

That was in 2007. Now, six years later, Hall has worked his magic on more than 10,000 historic photographs, ranging from early tintypes of Native Americans to medium-format color slides of 1950′s suburbia. Hall mostly sources the site’s new images from the LOC’s raw high-resolution scans, then restores them to their original grandeur.

The physical reality of turn-of-the-century America — its machines, factories, tenements and faces — emerge as if unearthed from a time capsule. Quirky cultural artifacts that have always been with us — locked in photosensitive chemicals in the glass plates and nitrate negatives of the LOC’s Prints & Photographs Division — feel as new and, in many cases, as unexpected, as they were on the day they were shot.

But the primary value of Shorpy.com isn’t just found in the hundreds upon hundreds of restored images of Americana, trains, bathing contests, accidents, war ephemera, portraits of royalty, and the occasional sharecropper. It’s in the details that Hall has meticulously restored within each photograph that the true power of these pictures is found. Every image republished on Shorpy has been color corrected, toned, and sharpened — restoring the brilliant texture and jaw-dropping sharpness found in the original negatives and glass plates. These negatives have a tremendous amount of detail, Hall explains, but the Library of Congress’ scans often don’t reflect this. The details exist in the original negatives, but are frequently hidden in blown-out highlights and muddied shadows. So, with each image, Hall balances the exposure, correcting for the wear of time upon negatives that record a narrow but deep slice of American history.

Hall doesn’t modify the content of the images, either — all of his adjustments are carefully limited to the standards of which the original photographers would likely pursue. He is, in effect, a master digital restorer, working as a darkroom printer of the time period would have done while preparing the images for public exhibition.

Most — if not all — of these pictures have never before been displayed with such clarity, and certainly have never been enjoyed, by an audience as vast as the web. This is where Shorpy’s strength as a historical and cultural tool comes into its own. Images that were once considered only as objects of history are made immediate and relevant once again, in part because we’re able to see that life in the past isn’t quite as different from our world as we perhaps imagined it to be. Shorpy lets us see in detail the faces of the past — and they look, in essence, exactly like the faces we’d see today on any American street.

Perhaps even more amazing than the photos themselves, however, are the comments on the site, often made anonymously, that help to flesh out the huge story behind the photos — and, in a sense, behind the Library of Congress itself. Users of the site closely inspect the images, pointing out a range of details — everything from specific styles of clothing to the facial expressions of passersby reflected in store windows.

For history to be relevant, it has to not only be accessible, but detailed enough that it feels alive. By embracing the immeasurable value of America’s vast, public photo library, Shorpy has found an elegant way to engage a generation for whom, and on whom, the power and personality of history is often lost.

Vaughn Wallace is the producer of LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @vaughnwallace.

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From the elementary school shooting in Connecticut and continued protests in Egypt to Syrian refugees in Turkey and the Pope’s first tweet, TIME presents the best images of the week.

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Syria has always been a tough place to cover for journalists. Confidently authoritarian with a ruthlessly formidable security and intelligence apparatus, Syria has long been one of the most policed of Arab police states. So when some Syrians defied their government to take to the streets in the southern city of Dara‘a in March 2011, the temptation to cover the story was overwhelming for many, including myself.

The story of the Syrian uprising is ultimately the tale of regular citizens silencing the policeman in their heads, breaking their own personal barriers of fear to speak, to demonstrate, to demand, to reject, to no longer be afraid, to live in dignity. It’s about what these people will do, what they will endure, and what they are prepared to become to achieve their aims.

It is also the story of a significant portion of the population that considers the regime of President Bashar Assad the country’s best option, because they believe in its Baathist secular ideology or directly benefit from its patronage or don’t have confidence in Assad’s opponents and fear what may come next. Understanding what this segment of the population will accept in terms of state violence, the narratives they choose to believe and their concerns is a critical component of the story, though one that is harder to obtain, given the paucity of press visas issued by Damascus.

The only way to tell the Syrian story, really tell it, is to be on the ground with the men, women and children who are central to it, whether in Syria on in the neighboring states that many Syrians have fled to. It isn’t easy to do — the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York City, has dubbed Syria the “most dangerous place for journalists in the world” — but it is essential. Nothing beats being there. There is no compensating for seeing, feeling, touching, capturing, living the story.

The images here are a testament to the power of being on the ground, of sharing and capturing a moment for posterity, of translating an element of a person’s life through imagery.

Take a look at the photos. Can you place yourself in these situations? Can you imagine what it must be like? What do you feel when you look at the images? Are you drawn into them, or are you repulsed? Can you relate to them, or are they too alien? This is the power of translating on-the-ground reporting to an audience. This is why we must and will continue to document the Syrian uprising from inside the country when we can, and we — members of the foreign press corps — are not alone. Sadly, as is often the case, local journalists (both professional and citizen) have disproportionately borne the brunt of the casualties in this crisis. Still, this story is not about members of the media and what we go through to tell it; it’s about the Syrians who entrust their testimonies, their experiences, their hopes, their fears, their images to us in the hope that they will help explain what is happening in one of the most pivotal states in the Middle East.

—Rania Abouzeid

This collection of testimonies is the third in a series by TIME documenting iconic images of conflict. See “9/11: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” and “Afghanistan: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” for more.

Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME. Reporting by Vaughn Wallace.

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It was a typical day at one of the hospitals here in Aleppo, a typical three hours, to be even more specific. Children seemed to be everywhere, on hospital beds, in the hospital lobby and waiting with listless faces outside the clinic. Blood seemed to seep through every piece of clothing they had. Some, as young as three, composed themselves as needles pierced their skin to stitch up deep wounds.

Mohamed, 13, tried hard not to cry as he lay on a hospital bed, wincing in pain from the injury he’d sustained after a shell landed near the breadline where he had waited for hours. No one knew he’d been hurt yet and his cousin arrived only thirty minutes later to transfer him to another hospital.

More civilians flooded in, and those who were conscious had a resigned look of acceptance—this was just what happened now these days.

A teenage son, his face smeared in red, collapsed in tears over his father’s body laying on the gurney. He was hit in the head by a bullet, caught in the crossfire as their car made their way through the confusing myriad of streets, unaware of where the snipers or perhaps even the army was. He didn’t seem to register the reality and stared at his father’s bloodied body in disbelief. The doctors bound his father’s hands together and covered him in a blue sheet. They carried his body into the back seat of the car, his feet sticking oddly out of the right window. The boys in the back couldn’t hold it in any longer—as the car pulled away, they wailed.

A man’s body, uncollected by his relatives, lay on a bed in an alley behind the hospital. Another man came rushing in, his eyes wide with fear. In his arms was a bleeding young girl. The hospital staff were all busy attending other civilians and fighters. “What do I do?” he screamed. He was panting, panicking. Someone told him to go to another field hospital. Back in the surgery room, almost easy enough to miss, was an 8-year-old girl who had apparently died in an airstrike. Her body was being wrapped in a shroud and a doctor picked her up to bring her to a waiting taxi.

And minutes later, 15-year-old Fareed was rushed into the hospital. His eyes were wide open as he took deep, labored breaths—his last few before turning motionless. The doctors rushed him to surgery, attempting to resuscitate him. His mother appeared in the lobby, screaming, hyperventilating, crying and grasping at her face in disbelief.

Fareed couldn’t be saved. The little piece of shrapnel had entered his back and passed through his heart—there was nothing the doctors could do here. The hospital had so many needs—for staff, surgeons in particular, and crucial medical equipment like oxygen tanks. It is simultaneously a little house of horrors, and a little house of miracles, where death hangs heavy in the air but every saved life brings a renewed sense of purpose for the doctors.

“I feel a lot of pain inside. A lot of pain, when I see women and children injured. But I have to control myself because I have to help them,” says 28-year-old Abu Ismail, an anesthetist from Aleppo. Abu Ismail wears a black headband with white writing: There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed is his prophet. “This headband gives me strength. I don’t save the lives—Allah does,” he says calmly as the horns of cars rushing to the hospital echo downstairs. Abu Ismail doesn’t flinch—his eyes remain excited and he is always smiling, even though he slept less than two hours the night before.

These are the everyday scenes in one hospital of one neighborhood in Aleppo. A microcosm of what the war looks like for the civilians of Syria, where every day the horror multiplies for even the youngest sufferers in this war. They are often the ones who cry the least as they are treated by doctors, while just a few beds over, grown men, fighters of the Free Syrian Army, scream out in pain. Daily shelling and attacks by helicopters and fighter jets seem to not break the civilian spirit. They remain resilient—they remain because they have no other place to go. Or simply, because they would rather die at home.

Nicole Tung is a freelance photographer who previously documented the uprisings in Libya and Egypt. Tung has previously filed dispatches from Syria recounting the aftermath of an airstrike in Aleppo and civilian funerals in Idlib

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Like the work of most great artists, the best of Walker Evans’ pictures are marvels of contradiction. Or, rather, they acquire their power through the contradictions they deftly reconcile. One especially striking example: a photograph from 1930 (slide 11 in this gallery) comprised of elements so incongruous that, taken together, they really should not bear scrutiny for more than a few moments before the viewer, shrugging indifferently, moves on.

But through Evans’ uncanny visual alchemy, that particular photograph’s disparate graphic elements—family photos; a half-hidden American flag; dried flowers; a truly hideous plant growing with almost unseemly vitality from a battered wooden bucket—appear not only to belong together, but to need one another in order to make sense.

MOMA

Cover

As seemingly chaotic and even unappealing as the image might feel at first glance, those wildly variant aspects of the photo—the flag, the plant, the faces—somehow cohere into something far more than the sum of their parts. Despite its initially jarring message, “Interior Detail of Portuguese House” does not, in fact, spurn scrutiny—it commands, and rewards, scrutiny. And what’s more amazing is that, after a time, the photograph appears to be gazing back. It is the viewer, and not the picture, that is the subject of an unblinking inquiry—and it’s unsettling.

But if Evans’ pictures are evidence of a rare facility for both creating and resolving contradictions, his career might be seen as his masterpiece. A fierce, determined artist, Walker Evans was for decades on staff at Time Inc.—a salaried editor at, of all places, Fortune magazine from the 1940s until the mid-1960s. That the man behind one of the seminal photographic efforts of the 20th century—the 1938 masterwork, American Photographs—went to the office each day, like any other nine-to-fiver, might astonish those photography buffs who have always, understandably, imagined Evans as nothing if not an irresistible creative force.

And yet, here again, Evans’ intrinsic contradictions—managed as Rodin might handle a lump of clay, or Koufax a curveball—are ultimately resolved in the photographs, singly and collectively, that he produced. He is both iconoclast and working stiff; company man and virtuoso.

This year marks the 75th anniversary edition of American Photographs, reissued by the Museum of Modern Art in an edition that recaptures, for the first time since its original release, what might be called the book’s radical purity. (The book itself, as a physical object, is a pleasure to hold; the duotone plates are gorgeous and crisp, and the size of this edition—an at-once solid and easily handled 7.75″ x 8.75″ hardcover—does justice to the serious, unfussy, thrilling nature of the work inside.)

As in the first edition, Evans’ pictures in the MoMa release appear only on the right-hand side as one turns each page, the utterly blank page on the left—without even a caption to distract the eye—adjuring one to look, to really look, at each picture, one after the other. And as the pages (slowly, slowly) turn, Evans’ accomplishment grows more evident, more impressive, more engaging.

The standard line on Evans is that no one—with a camera or a paintbrush—had ever captured America in quite the clear-eyed, unsentimental, honest  way that he did. But that patently true declaration still fails to encompass the scale and the sustained excellence of his achievement. In American Photographs, in images made during the Great Depression in places as divergent as Pennsylvania, Alabama, New York City and Havana, Cuba, Evans did not hold a mirror up to his country and his time: no mirror ever made, after all, could so clearly reflect what he saw, and what he wanted others to see.

Instead, each and every one of Evans’ pictures provides a window—or an unadorned window frame—from which even the glass has been removed, and through which we witness a scene of such clarity and immediacy that our own contemporary surroundings, if only for a moment, seem somehow less freighted with history. Less grounded. Less real.

The details of a house in Maine (slide 17)—the surprisingly jaunty, seemingly tilted windows; the elegant shapes, graceful patterns and, above all, the textures that give the structure its personality—are not merely the handiwork of people who obviously cared about their hard work; the details of the house are reminders of, and tributes to, the enduring value of hard work and the attention to craft.

The stance, the clothing and the unreadable expression on the face of a lean, dapper citizen of Havana in 1932 (slide 9) are not merely separate elements of a snapshot: like the details of a portrait by an Old Master, they combine to suggest a time, a place and an attitude (defiant, dignified) that have survived the passing decades intact—even if, by now, the man himself must be long dead.

These pictures, and the other pictures in American Photographs, are intensely daring precisely because the man who made them worked so hard to hide—to efface—the effort that went into creating them. Each image stands on its own, while at the same time each picture references the photograph that comes before, and the photograph that follows. It is a straightforward book that stirs complex emotions. It is a treasure.

‘Walker Evans: American Photographs (Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Edition)’ is available through the Museum of Modern Art.

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.

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“I had bought what was to become my weapon against poverty and racism,” Gordon Parks famously recalled of his first camera purchase at a pawnshop for $7.50. And where the LIFE staff photographer and film director first applied that weapon, on a large scale, was at the Farm Services Administration (FSA), which had been consolidated into Office of War Information (OWI) in 1942. Parks had a one-year photography internship at FSA-OWI that year, and his time with the federal government program—which hired photographers like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans to document the agency’s work— is the subject of a new book by the Library of Congress, Fields of Vision: The Photographs of Gordon Parks. “Very few people know he worked for the FSA-OWI,” says W. Ralph Eubanks, director of publishing at the Library of Congress. “Even I had always thought Parks was biding his time there, until he could branch off and do what do what he wanted to do. But he was actually doing some very serious work.”

While Parks was at the FSA-OWI in Washington, he suffered from the effects of segregation. In one instance, the photographer was kicked out of a movie theater, told to eat in the back of a restaurant and dismissed by a department store clerk all in one day. Roy Stryker, head of the FSA’s photography program, counseled Parks to talk to other people who suffered from those actions, as opposed to trying to depict bigotry in his work. That result was one of his more recognizable images from the time, American Gothic. “What he was up against personally shows up in those photographs. Parks made a connection with African Americans he met in DC. He went into people’s homes, into their churches,” says Eubanks. “Stryker was encouraging him to get into the mind of his subjects and capture it. I don’t think any of the white photographers would have been allowed that kind openness.”

The Parks book, which features an introduction by Charles Johnson, is the ninth in a series the Library of Congress has rolled out, pulling from the 171,000 FSA-OWI negatives in its archive. With a focus on photographers not immediately associated with the department, like Parks, Marion Post Wolcott and Jack Delano, the Fields of Vision series explores how the artists’ time at the FSA-OWI formed the roots of later work. “We wanted to find images that you haven’t seen,” explains Eubanks. “We also wanted to choose photographs that documented the human condition, rather than just the Great Depression.”

Of all the books in the series, Eubanks says it’s the Parks tome that has surprised him most. “He really did put himself into the work at the FSA-OWI completely. People should know more than just American Gothic.” In looking past that iconic image, Eubanks says, “I got a better sense of a great photographer as a young man.”

The FSA-OWI archives—including over 1,600 images by Parks—can be viewed hereThe books in the Library of Congress series, including Fields of Vision: The Photographs of Gordon Parks, are available online.

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