About the Project


This website was created as part of my work for ENG 393: Word-Art (Spring 2016) with Dr. Suzanne Churchill, at Davidson College. Prior to reading this Mashable Article I had never heard of killed negatives, and had not realized how foundational the Farm Security Administration’s Black-and-White Negatives collection was to my understanding of life during the Great Depression.

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I believe the killed negatives in the FSA collection offer the opportunity to examine the impact of editorial decisions, as well as erasure, on our engagement with photographs. Beyond the killed negatives, I find the broader FSA collection fascinating both for how it attempted to portray and humanization of American poverty, and for the collection’s legacy and its role in shaping historical memory of the Great Depression.

What I have aimed to create is a digital photo essay in the style of Roland Barthes, which reflects on how Stryker’s hand effects our engagement with these marked negatives. My guiding questions for this project included:

  • How do we “read” photographs; what is the intentional or unintentional impact of the black, punched-out hole on how we interact with or respond to the “killed negatives”?
  • What can these “killed negatives” tell us about power and the relationship between subject, photographer, editor and audience?
  • How does a photo’s caption change our perception of the photo; in the case of the “killed negatives” to what extent does the lack of a caption constitute a further erasure of the image, or image’s subject?


Rothstein, Arthur, photographer. [Untitled photo, possibly related to: Automobile races, Indianapolis, Indiana]. [May, 1938] Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/fsa1997009560/PP>.

[Untitled]. [Between and 1942, 1935] Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/fsa1997003933/PP>.

[Untitled]. [Between and 1942, 1935] Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/fsa1997001472/PP>.