Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A few days/weeks to kill.... if you'll excuse the pun.

The Library of Congress' digital archive has proven itself a constant source of great material and inspiration.

A number of blogs have recently mentioned Roger Fenton's The valley of the shadow of death being available as a large (49MB Tiff) download. This is truly significant image in the scope of photo history so it's fantastic that it can be inspected in such detail.

I've also only recently noticed that the FSA 'hole punch' images are also online. Amongst the 175,000 (!) images that LOC has digitised are some iconic images from 20th century photographic masters.

The above image is particularly interesting to me as it is another angle on a scene (below, both by Walker Evans) that heavily influences my aesthetic.

The two images above are an interesting case in regards to editing given that the version where the child is not making eye contact was published in 'Let Us Now Praise Famous Men' at the expense of the more confrontational gaze image.

The holes were punched through images deemed too similar, of poor quality or (arguably) 'inappropriate'.
Most of the time the photographers mailed their exposed negatives to the photographic unit's lab in Washington for developing, numbering and printing. In the initial years of the project [Roy] Stryker (head of the Information Division of the Farm Security Administration) was almost exclusively responsible for reviewing contact prints made from the negatives and selecting images that he considered suitable for printing. Over time, however, photographers played a greater role in picture selection. Rejected images were classified as "killed." In earlier phases of the project a hole was sometimes punched through the "killed" negatives; later, this practice was abandoned. The rejected images are usually near duplicates and alternate views of a printed negative. Source: LOC.

For those not familiar with FSA, here a small blurb from Wikipedia:
Together with John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (not a government project) and documentary prose (e.g. Walker Evans and James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), the FSA photography project is most responsible for creating the image of the Depression in the USA... The photographers were under instruction from Washington as to what overall impression the New Deal wanted to give out. Stryker demanded photographs that "related people to the land and vice versa" because these photographs reinforced the RA's position that poverty could be controlled by "changing land practices." Though Stryker did not dictate to his photographers how they should compose the shots, he did send them lists of desirable themes, e.g., "church," "court day," "barns." Stryker sought photographs of migratory workers that would tell a story about how they lived day-to-day. He asked Dorothea Lange to emphasize cooking, sleeping, praying and socializing.[5] RA-FSA made 250,000 images of rural poverty. Fewer than half of those images survive and are housed in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.

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