Hole-punched FSA images

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

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

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

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).


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.

Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude

Figure 1. Todd Hido (2006) #3557 .

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. Todd Hido (2001) #2133 

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.


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].

Image Transaction


What started as an image taken to say thank you became a question about the continuing proliferation of images. Sharing images online transforms the image into a type of currency that seeks to provide validation for both authors and readers, this perpetuates the visual language of established societal norms through placation, morals and covert colonisation as a subtle blackmail. This is a subtle ebb which we are all complicit and must intentionally reconsider and reengage with the way we use images. Where futurity is concerned, it should begin in the unlearning and relearning of visual culture.

The Online Image as Currency

My 2-year-old daughter would receive many gifts over the festive period from my wife’s extended family as we made our annual pilgrimage to visit. “Make sure you take a picture of her wearing it and send it to your aunt.” In fact, all of the gifts that we received would need to be meticulously documented and cataloged so that these photographs could be shared with the donor of the present. Even though, as a photographer myself, I find that to photograph is almost a reflex action, and the ease and enjoyment with which I photograph even the most banal of subjects is a constant draw, I started to consider the value of these images we were being asked to record and what happens to this value once it has been received, once they are within the realm of the pervasiveness and democratization of photography.

The photograph can be thought of as a form of currency – a term that could be used to describe how images are used, and ultimately appropriated and how they inappropriately propose evidence and provide what Roland Barthes termed a certification of presence (Barthes, 1993, p. 87) in that we must provide others with an ongoing, online record of achievement, no matter how menial that might be This is the new accepted normal acknowledging the representative futurity of our present age. Currency as an acceptance of the ubiquity of images and need to show oneself to others. In this description of the image, photography becomes a form of transaction, promising to pay the bearer on demand, though not to be confused with the commercial sense of the term (photographic skills are of course exchanged for their monetary worth). The value I refer to is the emotional and moral exchange that also takes place through the prolific sharing of images. Images that are designed to reduce your own value, images that are designed to reduce the value of others through the intersection of gaze and the intersectionality this creates (Lutz & Collins, 1991, p. 135); Images that provide an emotive moment, one way or the other (Barthes, 1993, p. 27) resonating and lingering with us.

In the digital sphere, the inherent value of photographic images is becoming more and more quantified, albeit in a dilution of quality and recognized through the unattainable view of perfection that exists; the idealistic and fundamentally edited world of our lives, nothing more than a greatest hits compilation, which is part of the performative power of photography and one that is continuing the illusion and the pretence that extends all the way to a covert colonisation of these accepted norms by driving a homogenised globalized commodity sold as the ideal ‘Caucasian beauty’ which was documented by photographer Zed Nelson in his project ‘Love Me’ and published in 2009 (Nelson, 2009). This has been a growing digital entity as newer generations of technology savvy users enter into their online only worlds, but also an ever existing modus operandi unchallenged by the economics that drive and have driven it. 

The recipient of the image who views, is the most important when an image is used as currency, as a transaction. Our lives online are drawn from a tight editing process to seek visual gratification for something that may not even exist, yet we share them and expect acknowledgement for this idealistic life. This is a more readily understandable transaction occurring between the author and the reader of the image (Barthes, 1977, pp. 142-149). This author seeks validation that one has lived; the reader will provide that validation and appropriate the image to suit their own gratification. This is an emotional attribution to the image, one that forms a kind of tangible link to a virtual and devoid online world.

This virtual tangibility can be compared to sporting events – when we root for our team to win, we react in what is known as the ‘spectating brain,’ where we can put ourselves into the role of the athlete on the field and get a real sense of feeling, connection to the sport, and community spirit, without any verbal communication or actual and literal physical link to the act of taking part in the activity (Borreli, 2016). It is something that can be palpably felt through a TV screen, or through the plethora of mobile devices that we interact with daily. This neurological impact has also been attributed to a number of actions wherever emotion is also attached, we start to mirror those feelings after witnessing others perform, which then creates links and other implications in the way we read each other’s emotions and also how we empathize with them (Winerman, 2005, p. 48). 

Through the prolific sharing of images that takes place every single second, we aim to generate a validation and empathy from others. However, it could also be a ‘status quo’ that might need to be maintained through these visual transactions. If an emotional resonance is created from the image, then potentially it can be used as a method of placating others. A subtle politics is at play when used as a method of thanks, a kind of irrational behaviour for sending this kind of image, especially if the gift was not gratefully received, as was the case for items we received for our daughter. Not to be viewed as being ungrateful however, some of the items were not the most appropriate, in terms of the size of clothing or the age range of the toy given. In a reverse of the function of the initial image transaction that I discussed related to the internet, in the thank you scenario, the photograph appeases and validates the donor, and maintains the balance within the family unit. Although in most cases this is far from tenuous, it is a form of obscure blackmail, transmitting deeply held moral values and motives: the photograph becomes both a product and bait (Barthes, 1993, p. 92). The currency of the image is within the context and the a thank you is a punctuation that notes the end of the exchange.

After the transaction has happened, the image becomes essentially meaningless and removed from its intended use: its context now has been completed. The context falls away, however the image does not assume new meaning other than its denoted content, it is redundant and the thing that we photograph has been appropriated (Sontag, 1979, p. 4), in the sense that the image starts to fulfil us, and add value to our lives through the attribution of emotion. In this way the donor is now fulfilled in a way that may not happen through the simple thanks of a text message, letter, or simple email. They are visually stimulated in the knowing that the received gift has been put to good use, they can see this irrefutable ‘evidence’ that forms the tangible link, the emotional connection to object, person and place. These images may regain some of their value over time, re-appropriated by nostalgia and in the context of historical intrigue, however this is of course may only be if these images survive the digital process of capture and storage. Printed images have the power to be cherished in a way that digital images will not, or instead they become the property of data harvesting juggernauts and disappear into the cloud (Prix Pictet, 2019) only to be referenced and used to fine tune algorithms and serve you unattainable perfection once again.

The present image, the image captured in the moment, this image that has been used as thanks, is a perfunctory exchange but there are many images however, that are used to capture and create an intimate family record. These are shared online via ‘big tech’ of course, in an album that we created in the cloud where personal poignancy, and other more candid moments blend together with the thank you transaction becoming part of the nostalgia and ongoing narrative following the beautiful development of our child, familiar to many.

In essence, the thank you image transaction is part of the wider discussion on the complacent proliferation of images. If we view photography as a type of currency, it would be in the form of a traded commodity exchanged for emotional validation, whether positive, or more often than not, a negative one. It is a quiet rage that is provided in the exchange of images for validation, consuming images as we do; it is easy to skip over their value due to the deluge and instant replacement of them, and in the quest for even more images. Our culture encourages it, and capitalism demands it, defining our very freedom on the ability to continue consuming (Sontag, 1979, p. 178). The thank you image is just another part of this plurality that exists in photography. We placate, take more, and validate more, yet the need for more images continues. Perhaps the true resolution of validation comes from not photographing at all, or it is that the value lies within the exchange and the validation and not the image itself which is the medium and not the message (McLuhan, 1967).

Online Image currency is a paradigm of our digital cultural exchanges, which we are currently and knowingly passive. It may be important to unlearn in order to relearn this visual culture and gain true visual literacy, here is where the real validation should sit.


Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation edition ed. London: Fontana.

Barthes, R., 1993. Camera Lucida. London: Vintage.

Barthes, R., 1993. Mythologies. 1st Vintage Edition ed. London: Vintage.

Borreli, L., 2016. Sports Fan Science: How Watching Sports Games Affects The Mind And Body. [Online]  Available at: https://www.medicaldaily.com/mind-and-body-sports-fan-sports-games-388444 [Accessed 12 January 2019].

Lutz, C. & Collins, J., 1991. The Photograph as an intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic. Visual Anthropology Review, 7(1), pp. 134-148.

McLuhan, M., 1967. The Medium is the Massage. Paperback ed. London: Penguin.

Nelson, Z., 2009. Love Me: Introduction. [Online] Available at: https://www.zednelson.com/?LoveMe:text [Accessed 27 January 2020].

Prix Pictet, 2019. A Lens on Sustainability: Consumption. Paris: Prix Pictet.

Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.

Winerman, L., 2005. The Mind’s Mirror. American Psychological Association , 36(9), p. 48.

Preparing for Informing Contexts: Human Choices

I set out to create a set of images that focussed on one particular community group. The Carnival was a relatively accessible choice for me to look at as I was already familiar with the events, as they were very much part of the yearly calendar growing up. I also knew of a few of the individuals how had good connections within the world of the carnival (Fig. 1). It was this initial connection that had led me to look at the Somerset Carnival circuit, understanding that access is critical in creating the kind of work that I wished to make. 

Figure 1. Mike, Frome Town Crier & key participant in the carnival who is also the step dad to an old school friend of mine. (Hill, 2019)

In terms of the Human choices that I would make during the project, I found that I would have to come to terms with the representation of the people that I was photographing. As I continued to work on the portraits, there would be an initial interaction between me and the subject in the form of an introduction to myself and the aim of what I was trying to do with the image. The initial introduction would also include a quick photograph being taken in a style that they were very used to: a large grin, maybe a thumbs up, or assuming the pose and acting out of the performance of the character that they were dressed as (Fig. 2). This was a result that each subject was quite happy to do and also with the result. The image could also be considered nothing more than the thin layer of performance of the character, not the person I was photographing. I made a conscious decision to pose my subjects in a very straight-on manner, with the hope of making an image that I would in essence have more control over the subjects instinctive reaction, which in turn I would have more ownership. 

Figure 2. Initial reactions from many of the carnival participants. 'Sunday Afternoon Theatre Company at Frome Carnival.' (Hill, 2019).
Figure 2. Initial reactions from many of the carnival participants. ‘Sunday Afternoon Theatre Company at Frome Carnival.’ (Hill, 2019).

I have come to understand this is however still a kind of performance, one of my making and choosing. It is one that I am confident creates a successful image and provides a deeper look into the subjects and the culture that they participate. Todd Hido takes this even further through the detailed control of the environment even before the subject enters into it, saying:

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

(Hido, 2014, p.97).

Hido also goes on to discuss that he does this in order to create a situation in which the subject can do something natural within it. Susan Sontag suggests that the photographer projects themselves on to the subject and the skilful photographer has the image pre visualised before the photograph is taken (Sontag, 1979, p.117). I have started to apply this to my practice, however I do have some development to continue in this area. I have found that, one of my key weaknesses in creating environmental portraits is the lack of awareness of what is happening in the background of my images. So concentrated am I on the subject and creating the posed images (Fig. 3). Before starting the MA, I would always tend to isolate my subjects against some kind of ‘clean’ background which although creates an image that I am happy with, and one that I have pre-visualised in many cases, and also go so far as to controlling the environment, as Hido does. This approach does tend to remove the context of the image as it sits within the narrative of the project. I am happy to have this approach challenged and will continue to work on my consideration in placing my subjects within the environment.

Figure 3. Example of an uncontrolled background in an attempt to shoot an environmental portrait. (Hill, 2019).
Figure 3. Example of an uncontrolled background in an attempt to shoot an environmental portrait. (Hill, 2019).

The question of how to pose my subjects within my images came up a number of times during the last module. Paul, for example questioned the looking off camera approach as a very common, and potentially overused method in photographic portraiture at the moment. Where I do not necessarily disagree with his assessment and especially the aversion to smiling in perceived ‘serious’ photographic work, Hannah Starkey (Starkey, 2019) consciously avoids getting her subjects to look directly into the camera suggesting that this can have a real impact in how the reader attributes narrative to the work. Looking away and off into the distance reduces the confrontation within the work and allows the reader to get in between the exchange of author and subject and create their own narrative of the work (Fig. 4&5). 

Figure 4. Looking directly into the camera. (Hill, 2019)
Figure 4. Looking directly into the camera. (Hill, 2019)
Figure 5. Looking off and away from the camera. (Hill, 2019)
Figure 5. Looking off and away from the camera. (Hill, 2019)

More and more now, I am appreciating the interplay between Author, subject, and reader. I am beginning to understand the crucial importance of the reader after reading Roland Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ Essay (Barthed, 1977, p.142 – 149), and how I have limited, if any control of how others interpret and read my work. Even though I do not completely agree that the reader can completely disregard the author of the work, especially in our modern age where so much information exists about the artist of a piece of work. As it impossible for the read to not bring opinion in isolation, it may be impossible to be completely removed from the artist of the work.

Nadav Kander reflects on this, and puts the more emphasis on the reader as ultimately being the author of the work discussing that the interplay between all three key elements is fundamental to the strength of the image through a triangle that exists between Artist, the scene, and the reader (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Illustration depicting Nadav Kander's triangle (Kander, 2019).
Figure 6. Illustration depicting Nadav Kander’s triangle (Kander, 2019).

Moving forward into the new module, I intend to start looking at the environment of community more closely and investigate the infrastructure of how it functions through photographing the architecture, such as meeting halls, and community hubs. This is an initial approach whilst I start to build the relationships needed to introduce portraiture back into the work. I also feel that it will be crucial to my development to focus on the environment and then start to introduce a human element to the images. I am also looking to start exploring my technical and aesthetic choices for my ongoing work. Up until now I have been relying on a style of image making that served me well whilst I was an editorial freelance, however I feel that it is important to challenge and explore moving forward. As I continue to use digital, I may even consider looking at a post production method of applying this aesthetic to my work – The technical choices that I make to my work related to the aesthetics will have a big impact on the context in which that work is read (Short, 2018, p.55).


Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Trans ed. London: Fontana pRESS.

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

Hill, P., 2019. Mike Bishop, Town Crier. [Art].

Hill, P., 2019. ‘Sunday Afternoon Theatre Company at Frome Carnival’. [Art].

Kander, N., 2019. Prix Pictet: A Lens on Sustainability. Photography as Witness [Interview] (5 November 2019).

Short, M., 2018. Context and Narrative. London: Bloomsbury.

Sontag, S., 1979. On Photography. London: Penguin.

Starkey, H., 2019. Photography as Witness [Interview] (5 November 2019).