It's hard to complain about the subconscious mind. Without memories and imagination and whatever-the-hell-else is going on in there, life would be pretty dull. But subconscious Doug can be a pain in the neck. He latches onto a word or idea and gnaws on it until there's nothing left but scraps and dust. It's exhausting and rarely leads to anything useful or productive.

These days, he seems to be stuck on "context" -- maybe the most vague and overused word in the English language. It started with an article about Roy Stryker and his hole punch.

Roy Stryker headed the Information Division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the Great Depression. He is best known for launching the program that hired photographers to document the plight of the rural poor during the great depression. Some of the most iconic images of the 20th century were taken by FSA photographers like Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, and Gordon Parks.

Less well known are the thousands of photographs that Stryker and his editors deep-sixed by punching holes through the negatives. You can see over 4,000 of the exorcised negatives at the Library of Congress. Here's the link:

LOC/FSA "hole punch"

Roy Stryker never explained why these negatives were defaced but many of the FSA photographers were outraged and let him know it. A chastened Stryker eventually granted veto power to photographers over which of their images would be nixed.

Here's an example of a photograph that I would have taken that Stryker punched out:

Untitled photo

Which sent me down the "context" rat-hole!

This Stryker hole-punch story is dripping with context:

.. The broad context of the Great Depression.

.. The specific context of the scenes and subjects in the images.

.. The two-sided context of the photographer's intentions and the viewer's interpretations.

.. The mysterious context that guided Stryker while rejecting these images.

Well, enough about other photographers -- what about the context of MY work, you ask? ;-)

Most of my work comes with a dollop of context. The images, I hope, are interesting but they usually don't "say" much without some sense of what I'm trying to do and why I care. Case in point is "Flower World."

Flower World

By most criteria, this is a bad photograph. The image is cluttered, and the scene is dirty, unkempt and not very interesting.

And yet, in the context of my "Hyperbole World" series, this is now one of my favorite "worlds." I love the hand-made signs. "Flower World" looks like it was printed 20 years ago. The "Carnation 25 for 25" sign is missing the 's' because they ran out of room. Next to the colorful plastic flowers in the busted pot (brightening a winter day in Troy, NY) sits a cinder block waiting for a warm day to hold the door open. Why a breastplated warrior holding missiles or corn cobs is standing in the window is a bit of a riddle.

But far more importantly, this mom-and-pop shop has dozens of glowing reviews going back to 2011. By all accounts, this is a great community flower shop. It perfectly epitomizes the hope, pride, gumption, imagination, humor, pluck (and, OK, maybe a little hubris) of the owners.

That's why I love this photograph. Context is everything!

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In