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.

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