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Former Hill Staffer Turns Hobby Into Profession

Much of photographer Marty LaVor’s career has been, as he puts it, a complete fluke.

LaVor spent 25 years working as a committee staffer on Capitol Hill before turning a photography hobby into his full-time job. One day, simply by chance, LaVor was waiting at the Supreme Court and decided to kill time by playing with his new fisheye lens. He looked up and began shooting the building in a way that made him see D.C. “for the first time.” 

He said he ultimately made the transition to full-time photographer thanks to his wife’s insistence that the craft he loved could actually be a career.

“Since then, I’ve taken over 1.2 million pictures,” LaVor said. “And I’m still having fun at it.”

His newest book, “The Library of Congress — Jefferson Building,” features 340 pictures of the architecture, paintings and sculptures of the impressive structure, which opened its doors in 1897. 

LaVor said the project took shape when Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who served at the time as a Representative for Illinois’ 18th district, approached him to photograph the Jefferson Building for a book that one of his constituents was interested in writing. 

LaHood was instrumental in securing permission for LaVor to photograph the building, but the original project ended up falling through. LaVor, however, decided to move forward independently with a self-published book dedicated to the building as a “visual experience.” 

“I had no intention on doing another book on anything locally,” LaVor said. “I loved the Library of Congress building, but I never would have thought of doing a book about it.”

It was, once again, another happy accident for LaVor.

LaVor, who served as a staffer on the House Education and Labor Committee and consulted for the Senate Aging Committee, has published 10 books since becoming a professional photographer. He has two other D.C.-centric works, “The Capitol: See It Again for the First Time — Looking Up” and “Washington: See It Again for the First Time — Looking Up.” For the photographs in these books, LaVor pointed his camera straight up and snapped shots with a 16 mm fisheye lens and a 360-degree lens to showcase iconic Washington monuments in a new way. LaVor has also self-published books on the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, churches and his travels around the world.

At the Library of Congress, LaVor wandered through the rooms shooting only with available light. He said he wanted to offer Library visitors a way to reflect on and understand the building solely through images. 

“If you go to the Library, it takes your breath away,” he said. “If you walk around for an hour, your mind is not equipped to handle what you see — it’s so beautiful, so filled with color.”

His method, he said, is to break down the images and take readers on a detailed walk through the building, which he describes as “a kaleidoscope that throws colors and brilliance at you.” 

“If you went to the Library of Congress today and left and looked through this book, you’ll say, ‘I didn’t see that,’ unless you’re 100 percent detail-oriented,” he said. “So I take images out of context.”

LaVor photographed everything from aerial views of the Main Reading Room to the intricacies of mosaics lining the Great Hall. His book showcases expansive views of the main rooms, then pulls out highlights that visitors might miss. Much like his career, LaVor said his book focuses on the surprising aspects of the Library.

“I’m interested in the splash of color,” he said.

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