This Is The Reason Why Some Great Depression Photos Were Punched With Holes

The Great Depression was a turning point for the United States, but culturally, economically, and socially. It was such a low that today our government does whatever it can to prevent such a time from happening again. Through it all, however, it was a such a defining era in U.S. history, that we will never forget it, and looking back at that time is somewhat fascinating.

By the time the Great Depression took hold, journalism and photography were joined firmly hand in hand, and many journalists and photographers set out to document this historic time, giving faces to those who were suffering, and showcasing the people affected by the Depression. Many, many iconic photos came out of that era, but there were also some that never hit the press, thanks to one man – Roy Stryker.

IMAGES SOURCE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Stryker was the director of the Farm Security Administration’s documentary photography program. The FSA was a program that aimed to fight rural poverty, and the documentary photography program was there to record the people and their plight. Stryker as editor of the program demanded the best out of his photographers, and though he gave them extensive information about their assignments before sending them out to the field, he was a bit of a “tyrannical editor” when it came to defining what the “best” photographs were.

When photographers would turn in their assignments, Stryker was notorious for punching holes through the negatives of photos he didn’t like, “killing” the photo.

IMAGES SOURCE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Naturally, this infuriated photographers at the time, who may have liked or had emotional attachments to the photos they were turning in. Luckily, the hole punch negatives mostly still persisted, and in their own right still show an iconic era in U.S. history, despite the big black dot that sits on most of them. Today, they are stored at the Library of Congress and are on exhibition in New York City currently.

IMAGES SOURCE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

As Edwin Rosskam, a photographer at the time, puts it, “[The] punching of holes through negatives was barbaric to me… I’m sure that some very significant pictures have in that way been killed off, because there is no way of telling, no way, what photograph would come alive when.”

IMAGES SOURCE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS