The Library of Congress holds thousands of negatives taken by photographers working for the Farm Security Administration, or FSA, during the Great Depression. The FSA employed photographers to document American society during this period, especially the plight of migrant workers. Economist Roy Stryker headed the Information Division of the FSA and decided which negatives would be printed and disseminated. He described the division’s role as “introducing America to Americans.”
When editing images, Stryker would use a punch to create holes in unacceptable negatives, rendering them unprintable. There is little known about Stryker’s motivation to authoritatively destroy the negatives in this way. In this series, I isolate rejected figures and the mark of rejection, emphasizing the people, animals, and objects excluded from the FSA’s portrait of American life during this period.
The eliminated characters seem to lack the strength of iconic figures such as Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother. The rejected are sometimes blurry, distant, improperly exposed, irrelevant to the FSA’s mission, or banal. The negatives cause me to think about how photographic editing affects our understanding of a situation and to consider what becomes of our own rejected images in the digital age.