Why Did the FSA Damage These Incredible Depression-Era Photos?
Photography

Why Did the FSA Damage These Incredible Depression-Era Photos?

Russell Lee/Library of Congress Blueberry picker, near Little Fork, Minnesota, 1937. Beginning in the 1930s, the Farm Security Administration was responsible for combating rural poverty in America. By hiring photographers to document its work and promote its mission, it was also responsible for commissioning some of the most iconic images of the Great Depression from photographers including Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Gordon Parks. The driving force behind those assignments was Roy Stryker, an economist and photographer who served as the head of the agency’s documentary photography program. He was a powerful and tough editor. With his approval, a photo could enter the annals of photography history. Without it, an image faced total destruction. That’s because Stryker had the infuriating habit of “killing” photographs he didn’t intend to use by hole-punching straight through the negatives, resulting in a large black void when printed. After spotting one of these damaged images in a magazine, photographer Bill McDowell started searching through the FSA’s online archive for others in 2009. While he said he was “horrified at the hubris” of Stryker’s destructive act, he became curious about the strange and captivating ways in which the black holes altered the meaning of the […]

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