We’ve featured many pictures from the US Farm Security Administration’s ambitious project to document the lives of farming families during the 1930s. We’ve witnessed Migrant Mothers, Dorothea Lange’s elegant portraits of life in The Dust Bowl, viewed haunting and powerful pictures of Appalachian families, spent a day in London, Ohio, taken a look at heavy industry at Corpus Christi, Texas and attended a Square Dance in McIntosh County, Oklahoma.
Now we can show you what the censors didn’t want you to see: the black hole photographs. These pictures each contain an inky black disc of nothing. A black sun hangs with pendant menace and mystery.
But they’re neither objects nor stains, rather punch holes made by Roy Stryker, the director of the FSA’s documentary photograph program, and his team of editors. The holes marked pictures as unfit for purpose. But what was the purpose of the Government program if not to show it all?
The holes become additions, extra points of interest.
Why were these images killed? What is it about each image we see here that caused the editors to act as censors? Looking at the holes in the sky, we might put on our tinfoil hats and look for conspiracy, supposing the images have been redacted to remove traces of flying objects. What is the man picking up from the grass? Why is another man’s face obliterated? Who is the missing face in the crowd?
Today we can see them all at the National Archives. But back then the desire to show the places and faces of America in the mire was controlled to fit a message.
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