Killed Negatives: the Great Reporters of the XX Century Speak of an Unseen America

Rural America during the Thirties is revealed in a single gathering of photos - all censored photos which were left behind by history as “killed negatives”, created by photographers that would go on to be considered among the greatest of the XX Century. It was the Farm Security Administration (FSA) that commissioned the historic work to a group of young reporters in 1935, with the goal of documenting the conditions of rural areas after the Great Depression which followed the crash of Wall Street. Heading up the project was the grouchy Roy E. Stryker, photographer and Information Section Chief of the FSA, known for his drastic selection method: images that were deemed inappropriate because of their form or content were damaged forever with a hole punch directly on the negative so that, if they were ever developed, they would be marked by a black circle. Brilliant photographs came under fire by equally brilliant talents the likes of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, Paul Carter and Jack Delano, Theodor Jung, Russell Lee, Edwin Locke, Carl Mydans, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, John Vachon, Marion Post Wolcott. The exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery looks at these in a different light - the documentary aspect is enhanced by the black mark of censorship of Stryker, giving the photos an abstract and conceptual boost and increasing, in many cases, the dire urgency of their subjects. These photos are placed next to works by contemporary artists such as Lisa Oppenheim, Etienne Chambaud, Bill McDowell, William E. Jones, which contributes to highlighting the aesthetic and surreal components of these photos, creating a dialogue between past and present.
Francesca Grego - © 2018 for Bulgari Hotel London