Roy Stryker’s Shooting Script for a small town

Shooting Scripts

The Script is a very comprehensive look at all of the possible ways that you could photograph a small town. Todd Hido considered these shooting scripts as an endless source of inspiration and a way to photograph a complete project of a place, with all of the components required to tell a story (Hido, 2014, p. 123). After reading the script, I do not necessarily agree that the lists would provide anything other than a comprehensive topography of a place. This of course is a valid way to approach a project, however Dorothea’s Lange concern that this approach was too focussed on the economic set-up suggests that such an approach would lead to a sterile look at the space devoid of humans, when the central focus should be on the people impacted by the issues raised in the images (Stryker, 1939, p.5).

Bibliography

Hido, T., 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.

Stryker, R., 1939. Farm Security Administration Notes. Library of Congress.

Hole-punched FSA images

Figure 1. Untitled negative showing South River, old high school at traffic junction, New Jersey by Carl Mydans (Mydans, 1936).

I had been looking for the shooting scripts mentioned in Todd Hido’s book that were created by Roy Stryker for the FSA photographers.

The FSA series was about highlighting the socio-economic conditions of the US which makes an interesting contrast that they rejected some of the images in such an abrupt way. It really resonated with me over the idea that Roland Barthes discussed in ‘How to Live Together’ about those that we exclude from our communities but seek to ‘guard’ them, seemingly to create the comparison to ‘the other’ something that seems at odds with what the FSA photographs were aiming to achieve.

Figure 2. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Old stage coach tavern near Huntsville, Arkansas, now inhabited by rehabilitation client by Arthur Rothstein (Rothstein, 1935).

Roy Stryker would ‘Kill’ and image by punching a hole through the negative if it was deemed not good enough to be printed, though interestingly enough, some of these images have survived to be catalogued by the Library of Congress along with the much more famous images, such as ‘Migrant Mother’ (Lange, 1936). The photographers were unhappy with this, however he continued to punch holes in the images up until 1939 (Taylor, 2017). It is worth noting that Stryker was an economist and may not have seen the value of such images, he would also approach the task of the FSA by looking at process over the human story, this is noted in one of the shooting scripts that contains a note regarding Dorothea Lange’s concern that there was far too much emphasis on ‘economic setup’ and not enough consideration to the people that were impacted by it (Stryker, 1939). 

The hole in the image is striking and creates a clear subtext of its rejection by focusing the reader directly at this floating black disk, before considering the rest of the image (Marks, 2018). The hole creates an additional meaning to the image, some of which have been punched in areas that create an uneasy feel to the image itself. The image of the farmer (fig. 1) has been punched straight through the face, rendering the subject unrecognizable, although the caption states that it could be ‘Mr Tronson,’ we cannot be sure. When I read this image I am immediately drawn to the black circle in the center of it and know that the subject is living in potential poverty, his story was not deemed important enough to include and be seen.

Figure 3. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Mr. Tronson, farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota by Lee Russell (Russell, 1937).

This seems to contradict what Susan Sontag writes of the FSA project as a whole, stating that the very purpose of the images was to show the value of the persons depicted in order to convince the middle-classes that “The poor were really poor.” This form of rejection removes the re-usability of the images for any kind of reappraisal later on, they have now become valueless in the context of the initial work (Sontag, 1977, p.62).

Bibliography

Killed Negatives: Unseen Images of 1930s America (2018) [Exhibition]. Whitechapel Gallery, London. 16 May 2018-26 August 2018.

Marks, A., 2018. Hole Punched Voids Transform Rejected Photographs From the Great Depression. [Online] Available at: https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2018/07/hole-punched-voids-from-the-great-depression/ [Accessed 13 12 2019].

Mydans, C., 1936. Untitled negative showing South River, old high school at traffic junction, New Jersey. [Art] (Library of Congress).

Rothstein, A., 1935. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Old stage coach tavern near Huntsville, Arkansas, now inhabited by rehabilitation client. [Art] (Library of Congress).

Russell, L., 1937. Untitled photo, possibly related to: Mr. Tronson, farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota. [Art] (Library of Congress).

Sontag, S. (1977). On photography. London: Penguin, p. 62.

How to Live Together – Roland Barthes

As I start to research text that looks at the community, I have come across Roland Barthes collection of lectures entitled ‘How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces’ (Barthes, 2012). This text is a look at “idiorrhythmy” which is primarily a system of community related to how many religious groups co-exist, such as monasteries. When related to the broader community, it is how we as individuals, and our individual rhythm can live with others whilst respecting their individual rhythm withing the same spaces.

It would be good to consider those within certain communities that have been excluded. This according to Barthes as ‘Perhaps there is no such thing as a community without an integrated reject’ Roland Barthes discusses that any community that exists to include some, also excludes some as well, with some communities go as far as ‘guarding’ their rejects and preventing them from leaving, presumably so that a comparison to ‘The Other’ can be made of ones situation over another.  (Barthes, 2012, p.101).

Rectangle as the basic shape of power. (Barthes, 2012, p.114)

In nature, the rectangle shape does not exist (With limited exceptions). Barthes creates a view that the spaces that we build for ourselves are a form on control. Control of the environment, in the shaping of it, control by the state are formed of rectangles. The same could be said of photography that creates compositions within the bounds of a rectangle.
This is worth considering when looking at the buildings and architecture of community.

Barthes considers the typology of communities in ‘How to Live Together’ discussing the relationship that we all have with beds, as an example. The bed too, is a rectangle, a system of controlling our sleep. The object itself is a functional item, designed for a purpose, an impersonal object. it’s connotations are also deep in meaning and provide a gamut of meaning, for example in language, we refer to ‘Death Beds,’ ‘Marital Beds,’ and how one could ‘Make your bed, and the sleep in it.’ (Barthes, 2012, p. 114). When considering the objects that I will explore in this part of my project, I really need to consider the relationship that these objects and spaces represent.

Linking back to Todd Hido
Figure 1. #2133 by Todd Hido (Hido, 2001).

Reading ‘How to live together’ there is also a nice link back to the work of Todd Hido that I was reading. Barthes considers the night time and the need to be around other people. (Barthes, 2012, p. 129) Living in any community means that this is unavoidable, except at night. Living together is a way of avoiding the loneliness of the night time. Todd Hido’s work is primarily shot at night and leaves a sense of separateness and loneliness. His image of the two windows with television light illuminating them (Fig. 1) suggests that these are at least two people ‘living together’ but choosing to spend time apart (Hido, 2014).

Also very much related to the work of Hido is the idea of ‘space.’ Barthes notes that the ultimate possession that we have is space. Distance is valuable. Sometimes however, it is not a literal distance that is being referred to. This could be a distance between socio-economic groups, it could also be through how you define and be yourself, in what Barthes calls the “pathos of distance.” (Barthes, 2012, p. 132).

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces. Translation Edition ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hido, T., 2001. #2133. [Art].

Hido, T., 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.

Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude

Figure 1. #3557 by Todd Hido (Hido, 2006).

Now that I am looking at taking my project on community into a broader look at the places that allow it to function, I have been reading Todd Hido’s book ‘On Landscape, Interiors, and the Nude’ (Hido, 2014), as I have come to his look at his night images of homes and how these become an image of the people and the relationships they represent. Hido provides multiple examples of this in his book, one of these is of a bed (Fig. 1) which is not necessarily just an image of a bed (considering the denotation vs the connotations of an image), it might be an image representing a relationship, it could also be about loneliness (Hido, 2014, p.66).

Figure 2. #2133 by Todd Hido (Hido, 2001).

It is important to consider the meaning that a seemly simple image such as a building might have. My aim is to start looking at the architecture of community, through the civic buildings that people congregate. From my initial research into some of the local buildings near me, I am now keen to shoot a range of interiors as well as exterior, and eventual images, before I move on to images of people again.

I do not feel the need to shoot these as Hido has done with his buildings, at night (Fig. 2). However, his emphasis on ambiguity is something that I intend to take from reading his book. It is also a continuation of the work I have started on developing my sense of narrative and allowing the reader to ask the question “What’s going on here?” (Hido, 2014, p.28), and also posing more questions than answers. The danger of applying Hido’s approach wholy onto my own photography is to then create a contrived image, removed from the faithful representation of the subjects. It is something worth exploring and considering the impact on my work.

Setting a Stage

Hido discusses the need to set the stage, which is an area I may consider exploring. Hido works on his locations to create a sparse environment so that you can focus on the subject, creating the conditions that provides context, and so that his subjects (Or characters) are able to be natural withing. Hido says:

“You can have an amazing story to tell, but you have to get the setting right”

(Hido, 2014, p.97).

My approach to this kind of work has always been to photograph what is in front of me and be as faithful to the scene as I possibly can. As I developed over Positions and Practice however, I have come to consider the direction in terms of how much I impose onto the subject to move them away from a ‘performance’ presented to me. My role, as I have come to terms with, is to create the kind of image I want to tell, and the dialogue between the subject and myself is an ongoing process.

Roy Stryker’s ‘Shooting Scripts’

Hido mentions Roy Stryker’s use of ‘Shooting Scripts’ to guide the FSA photographers

“In order to create the feeling of a common experience”

(Hido, 2014, p.123)

which I feel might be an interesting place to start looking at for my own work, moving forward. Hido considers that these are the elements for telling a story, and creating a full body of work and useful inspiration. I intend to look at these and create some explorations based on them.

I have found through some research, this example Shooting script produced by Roy Stryker and the FSA on ‘The Small Town.’ My intention is to analyse this in greater detail and see if it will apply ton what I am aiming to accomplish with this part of my project.

Bibliography

Hido, T., 2001. #2133. [Photo].

Hido, T., 2006. #3557. [Photo].

Hido, T., 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York: Aperture.

Library of Congress, 2011. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Written Records: Selected Documents. [Online]  Available at: Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Written Records: Selected Documents [Accessed 11 12 2019].

Research Project Proposal

I am happy with how my proposal has turned out, I found it challenging at the beginning to put my ideas into a logical order, however once I had found a good flow, it has become useful to create this plan in a way that is flexible enough for evolution. It has also given me the opportunity to apply some additional skills that may come to inform and support my work.

The proposal was consciously designed to mirror the layout and style of a government information document, similar to the EU Referendum pamphlet that was widely circulated during the 2016 referendum. Many state organisations choose to use the typeface Helvetica due to its clarity and appearance of stable governance (Helvetica, 2007). This is a subtle coding that we interact with regularly. I felt it important to start utilsing in my work on the community. My aim was not to create a complete copy of this but to consider the civic and political elements of community.

In order to make the document as accessible as possible I utilised Adobe InDesign to add elements such as navigation links and bookmarks to aid people in reading the document, although this might depend on prior knowledge of PDF reading software.

Helvetica. (2007). [film] Directed by G. Hustwit. Canada: Veer, Swiss Dots.