© SEAN MCCORMICK
Underground Cold War bunker beneath Library of Congress's Packard Campus.
At a city magazine, one of our constant challenges is to introduce readers to new and unexpected stories within their immediate surroundings. Photography plays a pivotal roll in telling such stories. For our April issue, assistant editor Michael Gaynor suggested that we do a piece on the Library of Congress’s Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation. The unassuming office building in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains 70 miles southwest of D.C. wasn’t the main star, rather it was what was beneath it: an underground Cold War bunker where archivists are gathering every movie, TV program, and album they can get their hands on. Millions of films, shows, and recordings—good, bad, and awful.
We needed a photographer who could cover all the bases, from the overall facility to its various details. A space that includes 90 miles of shelves, 35 climate-controlled storage units, and 124 nitrate vaults was definitely a challenge. Sean McCormick was the perfect choice. Sean has the ability to capture the essence of a subject while using minimally invasive lighting techniques, which was especially important for this story because of the nature of the archival material.
Before sending Sean out we discussed the visual direction for the piece. Keeping the compositions very linear and graphic would help emphasize the vastness of the space and its repetitious qualities. He returned with exactly what we asked for. From the cement tunnels as long as football fields and archivists restoring film to the details of old projectors and audio equipment, the photography gave our readers a beautiful insight into the facility.
Best of all, Sean’s a great guy. He's easy to work with and brings incredible energy to his projects. In his desire to explore and see more, he leaves no stone unturned. This passion coupled with a great sense of composition leads to compelling visual storytelling time and again.