I’m a dreamer. I believe the power of photographs can change America, and I have proof it’s possible.
We live in a time where we label people liberal or conservative, 1% or 99%er. What are we really? Do we even know? Is the Facebook picture our best side forward and not even true? Perhaps we’re not seeing the real America?
Roy Stryker created the FSA photography collection to document real life in America during the Depression Era.
He was brilliant. He created a resource with a goal of ‘Introducing America to Americans’. The photographs his photographers made changed the way people perceived folks in the rural areas, folks who were suffering in the dust bowl, living in poverty, etc, and ultimately those people in need were able to be helped and it raised our country up.
I want to do the same, only show America to Americans today. I want to use documentary photographers from across the U.S.
I want to build the collection to represent American life–the most ordinary and extraordinary parts of life here in the U.S., in all 50 states.
If we had an accurate look of what our family or neighbors with opioid addiction looks like, or back from war with PTSD, or with a successful new business, or how they are training for the Olympics, or how they get by and just barely not go to bed hungry–all kinds of real stories, positive and negative–could we impact Americans?
‘Showing America to Americans’!
You could say Roy Stryker accomplished his goal of “Showing America to Americans” when he completed the FSA photography project.
Robert Frank did it in the late 1950s with his book, The Americans, showing America a viewpoint that was both real and less than beautiful. In fact, despite the book now being considered one of the most important documentary photography books of all time, when it came out, people didn’t like it. They thought it showed too much the real of America. They called the photos ugly.
Popular Photography, called the images “meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness.” The cover showed segregation. The truth wasn’t as pretty as people would have liked. We looked flawed, not perfect. We were the heroes of World War II, why were we looking at people who looked less than heroic?
Seeing ourselves from the viewpoint of documentary photographs is different than the major news media’s images (extreme news, crime, suffering) or social media snaps (vacation pics, selfies, looking our best to impress friends). It includes photographs that show the way we are today. It shows real life.
Where can you see what real life in eastern Colorado looks like right now? That part of the state outside of the major Front Range cities (Denver, Boulder, Ft. Collins, Colorado Springs) where rural folks live? It’s an area I intend to photograph because I don’t even know what life is like there.
I can plug any town’s name into a Facebook search and find phone snaps, but is that who we are? I can look up the local news source for that area, but is that accurate to the life of those living there, or just the crime and news big enough worth reporting?
The documentary photographer’s job is to photograph the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. It’s more than a news source. It’s a window into our lives from an outsider’s objective point of view.
It’s a willingness to look and see things that aren’t only attractive, to see more than just what we want to be seen as.
A view into who we really are. It’s why we need documentary photographers today.
There’s a view that there are so many photos uploaded onto social media a minute that photographs don’t matter anymore. I don’t believe that’s true. There are a thousand stories that are standing in the shadows, and they need to have a light shined on them, to have their stories told.
This project aims to do just that. With documentary photographers. It’s a different mindset than shooting clever street photography with humorous juxtapositions or geometric lighting patterns.
It’s seeking to see truth. If we dare to look.
The news and the political climate make it seem like liberals and conservatives are worlds apart. But do we even know each other? Or are we just going off the stereotypes in our heads?
There’s a site that’s live to showcase the collection, RoyStryker.com – Yes,it’s named after him as a tribute. All photographs in the collection are curated–not all images are accepted into the collection and book project.
There will be invites based on the photographer’s ability and quality of work to become part of the collective of photographers contributing to the collection. We already have some photographers, from different states, and adding more now.
The form for submission requires a high-res photograph.
Ultimately, the photographs will be used:
1) for a book project – 100-150 pages.
2) on display on the Web site, searchable by state.
3) shown in gallery shows throughout the U.S.
4) available for sale to publications–the photographer maintains all rights to their images at all times and would negotiate directly with the publications.
5) eventually, if the photographers are willing, to offer the collection to the Library of Congress if we have created something exceptional.
I plan to arrange meetups in each state with photographers to show the project and share the details with them, and hopefully get them on board as contributing photographers. I plan to have meetings at photography clubs and camera stores and if you are a store owner or a leader at a local club, please get in touch with me.
If you are a documentary photographer who wants to contribute, please see the information at Become FSA Photographer. We need you!