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, 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. Using Adobe Photoshop, I eliminate all pixels minus the focal point of the image with the punch hole to create a relationship between a rejected figure and the symbol of rejection. Through this process, I emphasize people, animals, and objects left out of the government agency’s portrait of American life during this period.
The eliminated characters seem to lack the strength of iconic figures like 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.
Kate Shannon, Artist
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Kate Shannon is an Assistant Professor of Art at The Ohio State University Mansfield. She uses photography, digital imaging, animation, and multimedia installations to explore notions of desire, consumption, destruction, and loss. She has actively exhibited her creative work across the United States, including recent solo exhibitions at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia and the at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. Shannon received her Master of Fine Arts degree in photography from The Ohio State University and her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photography from the University of Kentucky.