We are pleased to have guest blogger, Michael Itkoff, a founding editor of Daylight Magazine, launch our first column of DARK HORSES. We asked Michael to choose a book that he felt has been overlooked or underappreciated in the photo world. He chose the book, Killed: Rejected Images from the Farm Security Administration by William Jones. Besides Michael’s column, you’ll also find a five-minute video piece, “Punctured,” directly below, which was recently exhibited at the Andrew Roth Gallery in New York. As always, please leave your comments at the end of this column.
In addition, we’d like to remind our online photography community about the annual Daylight/CDS Photo Awards, for both established and emerging photographers, whose deadline is MAY 1, 2011. You can read more about the awards on Daylight’s blog.
Lastly, for photographers in the LONDON area, we wanted to let you know that we’ve added a last-minute weekend workshop in London, Friday evening, June 17th, through Sunday afternoon, June 19th. Space is limited, so we’ll fill it on a first come basis. Here’s a link to the Magnum Events page for those interested in having more information.–Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb
History is widely understood to be a malleable record. The dense reams of paper-work and documentation that amalgamate into historical record are generally controlled by a ruling party, selectively shared and highlighted as needed. The inaccessibility of such archives can deter all but the most devoted pursuers of information. In the United States, the Freedom of Information Act coupled with the searching power of the internet have added a level of transparency few regimes have matched. Recently, the undiscerning publication of sensitive government documents by Wikileaks have forced us to evaluate the line between open-source accountable governance and potentially negligent loose lips.
The control of information has long been a significant historical hinge. Figures from Martin Luther to Thomas Paine have helped to sway public opinion with their influential publications. In his new book, Killed: Rejected Images from the Farm Security Administration, the artist William Jones has reexamined the well-known historical record left us by Roosevelt’s New Deal. While searching for homoerotic elements in the FSA archives, Jones stumbled on a series of rejected photographs and assembled them into a video.
Between 1935-44, under the watchful eye of American economist and government official Roy Stryker, a number of photographers were sent into the interior of the United States to bring back a record of the Great Depression. The results of this campaign have been shown widely around the world and become emblematic of America’s dignified suffering during this difficult period. The photographs we have come to know and love were, of course, vetted and approved by Stryker himself but little is known about the others. Until now. Combing through the archives, Jones has presented us with 157 images rejected by Stryker. The images are compelling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the negatives themselves were ‘killed’ by Stryker’s hole punch. In the book, photographs appear by Walker Evans, Theodor Jung, Carl Mydans, Marion Post Wolcott, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, John Vachon, John Collier, Jr., Russell Lee and David Myers.
Stryker’s circular redactions serve to bind each image with the next both formally and conceptually. Looking through the photographs one cannot help but think about why Stryker chose to reject them. In one pair of photographs, two little girls stand in a farers field with flowered dresses. Their clothing matches the squash blossoms around them and the photographer adjusts his viewfinder to catch their wary father as he walks by. This strange dynamic is highlighted by the girl’s expression, which changes from cherubic to awkward as the father approaches. Another rejected image features a pair of young African-Americans picking cotton. A self-portrait by John Vachon is definitively marred by two hole punches over his face. In one of Walker Evans’ images, a sad looking barefooted child sits in the dirt next to a man with ragged pants.
In the images described above, and many more, underlying tensions are magnified by the sheer weight of the historical context. Despite the magic of photography, the documentary process is imperfect at best. Coupled with the gesture of governmental rejection, the photographs in Killed make for a potently loaded experience.–Michael Itkoff
Michael Itkoff is a photographer, writer, educator and a Founding Editor of Daylight Magazine. Michael’s monograph, Street Portraits, was published by Charta Editions in 2009. His website: www.michaelitkoff.com