Carol Highsmith

Carol Highsmith poses for a picture while touring the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum last week in Owensboro.

Carol Highsmith has traveled America for 40 years, preserving its towns and countrysides on film and digital formats.

Today, roughly 100,000 of those images are on display in the Library of Congress and on its website.

Last week, she was in Owensboro for the first time.

On Tuesday, in a conference call with the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Highsmith said, “I’m not easy to impress, but you impressed me.”

She said, “Everything is so well done there. Your playground by the river, your bluegrass museum. You’ve got it all together. You’re a huge showcase of America.”

Mark Calitri, CVB president, said, “Owensboro should be proud to be selected by someone of Carol Highsmith’s national prominence and notoriety to be featured in this project.”

Dave Kirk, destination management director, said, “Endorsements like this from a national influencer carry a lot of weight in a potential visitor’s mind. Highsmith is also letting us use her incredible photos featuring Owensboro for future marketing efforts at no cost. We’re incredibly grateful for this wonderful gift.”

Her photographic journey began at the abandoned Willard Hotel in Washington — a block from the White House — in 1980.

From there, Highsmith said, she’s traveled to every state, capturing images of modern America, gleaming new buildings, abandoned steel mills and the ruins of Southern plantation homes, storefront churches, drive-in theaters and a lot more.

“I’m doing it for the ages,” she said. “Two hundred, 300, 400 years from now, people will be able to see what America looked like in our time.”

Highsmith has photographed Jay Leno, Ronald Reagan, George and Laura Bush, and other famous people.

But it’s the everyday people she’s most interested in photographing, she said.

“It’s about us,” Highsmith said. “Americans.”

In the early years of her work, she said, “I saw what a mess America was.”

Since then, Highsmith said she’s seen a lot of improvements.

But, she said, “Some towns have really gone bad.”

Owensboro’s downtown, Highsmith said, is “gleaming. You must have some money there.”

She said she was impressed with the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum with its extensive collection, the barbecue and “Oink for Owensboro” — the collection of fiberglass pigs downtown.

“When you think of Kentucky, you think of bourbon, horses and bluegrass,” Highsmith said. “And you’re a big part of that.”

One of the things she photographed at the Hall of Fame was the late Pete Seeger’s banjo, whose strings once rang with such songs as “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “We Shall Overcome” and “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.”

That was for the Library of Congress’ Folklife Center, Highsmith said.

She said the photos she took in Owensboro last week should be on the Library of Congress’ website in about three months.

There is no copyright, she said.

People can download the images and use them.

Her works can be seen at and

Keith Lawrence 270-691-7301

Keith Lawrence 270-691-7301

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