Photography: Through a lens darkly: 98 years of 20th-century life

Victorian vice or pre-war, bucolic innocence? Cigarettes and alcohol or strawberry fields forever? Whether it inspires sociological commentary or evokes hazy nostalgia, this scene, right, of young strawberry pickers enjoying a smoke and a drink in Hampshire 98 years ago speaks volumes for the power of the photograph to bear witness to our lives as no other medium can.

This is just the first photograph of many to many published in The Independent. From today, in conjunction the Arts Council of England's `Arts 2000' initiative, `Photo 98 - The Year of Photography and Electronic Image', The Independent will celebrate the epoch of the photograph with a seminal image from each of the 20th century's 98 years. While The Independent looks at the historical power of the picture, Photo 98 will showcase the world's photographic talent on the eve of the millennium in a series of high-profile national events and exhibitions featuring 120 new commissions and the work of over 400 artists. Over the coming months, with exclusive access to the Hulton Getty Picture Library, we will tell the story so far of this momentous century in 98 ground-breaking pictures, many of which Independent readers will be the first to see publicly.

What's more, no newspaper is more qualified than The Independent for such a breathtaking visual history. In three and a half thousand editions following its launch in 1986, The Independent has time and again proved itself committed to the very best of photography - and continues to give it the highest priority.

Today, David Allison of Hulton Getty explains how the Library accumulated 15 million images.

Mike Higgins

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