William E. Jones
‘"Killed"’

Film still
2009
Sequence of digital files, black & white, silent
Duration: 1 hour 44 min, looped

During the Great Depression, the Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration documented American society in photographs. The director of this program, Roy Emerson Stryker, edited rolls of photographs taken in the field after they were sent to Washington, DC for processing. Not a photographer himself, but a social scientist and educator, Stryker had the ultimate say over which of the negatives exposed by FSA photographers were worthy of printing and publication. Thousands of the pictures made under the program’s auspices from 1935 to 1943 were rejected, or in Stryker’s term, killed. Roy Stryker and his assistants routinely killed 35mm negatives by punching holes in them, thereby rendering them unusable for publication. Photographers working under Stryker strenuously objected to an editorial practice that they regarded as dictatorial and capricious, and Stryker finally stopped destroying his subordinates’ work in the spring of 1939. All killed negatives were preserved and filed away, but they remained unprinted, and until recently, unseen. When the Library of Congress began making high resolution digital scans of FSA negatives available on its website, it included many rejected images, and among them, a small number of killed negatives mutilated by a hole punch. In “Killed,” these suppressed images downloaded from the Library of Congress website have been reframed with the holes as the central feature, and edited in a quick montage showing glimpses of an unofficial view of Depression-era America.