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

  • Christian Palma / AP

    Hopeful Images From 2019

    I’ve made it an annual tradition to compose an essay of uplifting images from the past year—an effort to seek out and recognize some of the abundant joy and kindness present in the world around us.

  • Ng Han Guan / AP

    2019 in Photos: Wrapping Up the Year

    Time to take a look at some of the most memorable events and images of 2019. Events covered in this essay include protests in Hong Kong, Chile, and Iraq; a toxic sky over New Delhi; an all-female team of spacewalkers; and much more.

  • Cadet Hallie H. Pound / U.S. Army via AP

    2019 in Photos: A Look at the Middle Months

    Time to take a look at some of the most memorable events and images of 2019. Events covered in this essay include the Pan American Games in Peru, a spelling bee with eight co-champions, the testimony of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill, and much more.

  • Joyce N. Boghosian / The White House

    2019 in Photos: How the First Months Unfolded

    Time to take a look at some of the most memorable events and images of 2019. Events covered in this essay include the abdication of Japan’s Emperor Akihito, a performance by Lil Nas X, a landing on the far side of the moon, and much more.