It seems astonishing today when visiting the Whitechapel Gallery to imagine it before 2009 when it t took expanded into the former Passmore Edwards Library next door, so that visitors move seamlessly from one building into the other. Perhaps appropriately because it was formerly part of the Library and the new Reading Room adjacent to it, Gallery 4, which is entered through beautiful historic glazed doors and has views out onto the street, is a perfect location in which to explore a unique piece of 1930′s photography and censorship.
Between 1934 and 1944, Roy E. Stryker, head of the Information Division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), used top photographers including Paul Carter, Jack Delano, Walker Evans, Theodor Jung, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Edwin Locke, Carl Mydans, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, John Vachon and Marion Post Wolcott to record the struggles and reality of rural life in America following the Great Depression and the positive impact of the support which the FSA was providing to these communities.
Many of the photographs were censored for giving the wrong message by a unique method of using a hole punch on the negatives which were not to be used in publications. However it was also a masterly stroke as these negatives have survived, albeit with the holes, when they could well have been destroyed and now, along with letters and documentation from the time, in ‘Killed Negatives: Unseen Images of 1930’s America’, provide a fascinating record of rural America at the time, the project which Stryker initiated and of this unique method of censorship, but one which resulted in the long term preservation of the negatives apart from a strange dark hole or holes within them, the position of which is at times quite surreal.