Holes Punched Through History

In 1935, Roy Stryker became the head of the Information Division of the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA), documenting work done by the government to help poor farmers and their families during the Great Depression. Over the course of a decade, the scope of the FSA’s photographic subjects broadened, then transitioned to a war footing in the 1940s, becoming part of the Office of War Information. The resulting collection of more than 175,000 images remains a national treasure—a snapshot of American life during a difficult time. In the early years, Stryker himself reviewed and edited photographs mailed in by FSA photographers, and would often “kill” a photo he disapproved of (remove it from consideration for publishing) by punching a hole right through the negative. The photographers were unhappy with this destructive hole-punch method, and frequently let Stryker know, but he didn’t stop until about 1939. Recent digitization efforts have made nearly all of the FSA/OWI photos available to the public, showing defects, hole-punches, and all. Some of the punched images were duplicates, but many were unique, and are now lost.

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Kyodo / Reuters

    Scenes From the Aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis in Japan

    Images of the damage and immediate recovery work taking place in Japan after its worst storm in decades

  • Jam Sta Rosa / AFP via Getty

    Photos of the Week: Ute Muster, Snow Leopard, Highway Acrobat

    A dog exhibition in Bishkek, a Kali Uchis performance in Texas, a demon-king burning in India, attacks on Kurdish sites in Syria, unrest in Haiti, the Masham Sheep Fair in England, and much more.

  • Tomacrosse / Shutterstock

    A Photo Trip to the Bungle Bungles

    Spectacular karst sandstone formations in Western Australia’s Purnululu National Park

  • Dolores Ochoa / AP

    Anti-austerity Protests and Strikes Shut Down Quito, Ecuador

    Demonstrations have roiled Ecuador’s capital city for more than a week, after the government eliminated a long-standing subsidy, doubling the price of fuel.