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Posts Tagged ‘Roy Stryker

“Life is one big road with lots of signs”*…

 

Hay

 

(R)D has looked before at the remarkable work of the Farm Security Administration, which was launched in the New Deal to help relieve crippling poverty in rural communities.  As small part of that mission, the organization documented life in the the communities in which it worked….

These photos naturally included many road scenes, as the Great Depression had plunged rural America into a great migratory frenzy.

The photographs taken by FSA photographers under the direction of economist Roy Stryker have come to form the basis for the popular image of the Great Depression, among them Dorthea Lange’s Migrant Mother.

But I’m sure you familiar with that photo. What I want to share with you are some of the more striking images of cars and roadside life that also make up part of the collection, which the Library of Congress has digitized and made available on Flickr.

These photos capture a country on the move, attempting to make its way out of the worst financial crisis it had ever seen and into a productive future. This is intentional, of course. The photographs were intended to “introduce America to Americans” and instill pride in the country as it shook itself out of the depression…

Lincoln

More at: These Color Photos From the New Deal Show What Life On The Road Once Was Like.”  Visit the Flickr archive here.

* Bob Marley

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As we motor on, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908, at the at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, “Model T 001”– the first production Model T– rolled off the line.  (On May 26, 1927, Henry Ford watched the 15 millionth Model T Ford roll off the assembly line at his factory in Highland Park, Michigan.)

220px-1908_Ford_Model_T

1908 Ford Model T ad

 

Written by LW

September 27, 2019 at 1:01 am

“All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”*…

 

From his office at the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington, D.C., Roy Stryker saw, time and again, the reality of the Great Depression, and the poverty and desperation gripping America’s rural communities. As head of the Information Division and manager of the FSA’s photo-documentary project, his job was to hire and brief photographers, and then select images they captured for distribution and publication. His eye helped shape the way we view the Great Depression, even today.

Professionally, Stryker was known for two things: preserving thousands of photographs from being destroyed for political reasons, and for “killing” lots of photos himself. Negatives he liked were selected to be printed. Those he didn’t—ones that didn’t fit the narrative and perspective of the FSA at the time, perhaps—were met with the business end of hole punch, which left gaping black voids in place of hog’s bellysindustrial landscapes, and the faces of farmworkers.

In 1935, the Resettlement Administration (RA) was established as part of the New Deal to provide relief, recovery, and reform to rural areas. The FSA, created in 1937, was its spiritual successor. The FSA’s duties included, but were not limited to, operating camps for victims of the Dust Bowl, setting up homestead communities, and providing education to more than 400,000 migrant families. Communicating about its efforts was also part of its mandate…

Stryker sought out photographers, among them Dorothea LangeGordon Parks, and Arthur Rothstein, and made their images readily available to the press. Given the lack of new photography and art being produced during the Great Depression, the photos regularly appeared in magazines such as LIFE and Look. He also had them displayed at the 1936 Democratic National Convention, the 1936 World’s Fair, the Museum of Modern Art, and other prominent venues. The publication of a series of early photographs, including Lange’s Migrant Mother, proved instrumental in pushing the federal government to provide emergency aid to migrant workers in California.

In the effort to represent the FSA and Roosevelt’s signature domestic achievement in a positive light, the chosen photos captured how the idealistic views of farm life were being tainted by poverty, and how the FSA programs were helping farmers reclaim their dignity. Common elements were decrepit housing conditions, the lack of food and clean water, and harsh work environments.

It was government propaganda, and there were certainly some within the government (both supporters and detractors) who saw it that way, and more who considered both the FSA and its photography project as communist and un-American. In a 1972 Interview, Stryker admits to having felt political pressure from the Department of Agriculture to portray the effectiveness of the New Deal. “Go to hell,” was his response. His photographers “were warned repeatedly not to manipulate their subjects in order to get more dramatic images, and their pictures were almost always printed without cropping or retouching.”

But there is a way to manipulate the story being told without altering the images themselves—the process of photo editing, of choosing which images to highlight and which to discard…

The fascinating story of one man’s (materially successful) effort to galvanize social and political opinion: “How a Hole Punch Shaped Public Perception of the Great Depression.”

And for an equally-fascinating consideration of how emerging new visual technologies might similarly be used to sway sentiment, read Fred Turner‘s “The Politics of Virtual Reality.”

* Richard Avedon

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As we celebrate skepticism, we might recall that it was on this date in 1977 that Nolan Bushnell (co-founder of video game pioneer Atari) opened the first Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre, ultimately a chain of family destinations that served pizza and other menu items, complemented by arcade games, amusement rides, and animatronic displays as a focus of entertainment (and often, birthday party celebration).  It took its name from its main animatronic character Chuck E. Cheese, a mouse who sang and interacted with guests.  Over 600 outlets are operating today in the U.S. and 17 other countries.

Chuck E. Cheese and Nolan Bushnell (Bushnell on right)

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“Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial ‘we'”*…

 

The photos look just like the most famous FSA images of Depression-era America. Laborers with weathered faces stare into the distance, sharecropping families stand on splintered porches and rag-clad children play in the dust.

But each picture is haunted by a strange black void. It hangs in the sky like an inverted sun, it eclipses a child’s face, it hovers menacingly in the corner of a room.

The black hole is the handiwork of Roy Stryker, the director of the FSA’s documentary photography program. He was responsible for hiring photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein and Gordon Parks and dispatching them across the country to document the struggles of the rural poor.

Stryker was a highly educated economist and provided his photographers with extensive research and information to prepare them for each assignment. He was determined to get the best work possible out of his employees — which also made him a bit of a tyrannical editor.

When the photographers returned with their negatives, Stryker or his assistants would edit them ruthlessly. If a photo was not to his liking, he would not simply set it aside — he would puncture the negative with a hole puncher, “killing” it…

More of this sad story– and more punched photos– at “1930s ‘Killed’ photographs.”  More on Stryker here.

* Mark Twain

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As we fill in the blanks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1941 that Diane Nemerov, the privileged daughter of department store owners, married Allan Arbus, a penniless City College student, in New York. Allan went to work in his in-laws’ store, but supplemented his income doing fashion photography– with Diane as his assistant, and later full partner.  But after the birth of her second child, Diane found herself drawn to less traditional and more candid subjects– children at first; later “the forbidden.”  While Allan continued to run the fashion studio, Diane became noted for photographs of marginalized people—dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, circus performers—anyone whose “normality” was denied by the general public.

“Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park,” New York City (1962)

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“Eddie Carmel, Jewish Giant, taken at Home with His Parents in the Bronx,” New York, 1970

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photo of Diane Arbus by Allan Arbus (a film test), c. 1949

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Written by LW

April 10, 2016 at 1:01 am

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