I’m a dreamer. I believe the power of photographs can change America, and I have proof it’s possible. Roy Stryker, who was the creator of the FSA photography project in the 1930, during the post-Depression era, used photographs to bridge a divided country. 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.
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 merely our best side forward and not even true? Perhaps we’re not seeing the real America?
My goal is the same as Mr. Stryker’s, to Introduce America to Americans, and maybe bridge the divide we perceive, but perhaps isn’t as great, as it appears. I’m doing this by recruiting film photographers to contribute documentary photographs to the collection. 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 struggle to get the kids fed but not go to bed hungry themselves–all kinds of real stories, positive and negative–could we impact Americans?
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 from the police blotter to prompt a news station to report on?
What about the folks living in Platteville, Colorado, northeast of Boulder? This is their Main Street.
What is life like for them? Do many of them have health care? Are they retired? Are they young families? What does it look like to put a ADHD kid to bed, or ready for school? What do kids do after school, play outside? Sit on their iPads? Do the adults have to commute to Denver or Boulder for work? Are they struggling trying to keep a business alive, or a farm or ranch going?
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. A willingness to look and see things that aren’t only attractive, or only what we want to be seen as, but 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 shine 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.
What we’re looking for
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?
Photo needs for the project include:
- Interiors of stores, businesses, churches, restaurants.
- People on Main Street wherever you are.
- People on secondary streets off Main Street.
- Local events – parades, concerts, races, sports and activities.
- Home birthday parties, kids being put to bed, TV rooms, computer rooms.
- People doing hobbies and playing.
- People at work.
- Various cultures, ethnicities and LGBTQ people.
- People in tough situations, struggles.
- People in joyous situations, successes.
There’s a Web to showcase the collection, RoyStryker.com – Yes, I named it after him as a tribute.
All photographs must be made on real film. That requirement was made to seek out more serious documentary photographers and less phone snappers, as there is a curating of the photographs–not all images are accepted. And to provide some level of authenticity to the collection. The form for submission requires a high-res photo as well as a low-res image of the neg/slide for authenticity purposes.
Future plans and how to get involved
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 6 photographers, from six different states.
Ultimately, the photographs will be:
- used for a book project – a high-quality photo book, 100 pages.
- on display on the Web site, searchable by state.
- shown in gallery shows.
- available for sale to publications–the photographer maintains all rights to their images at all times and negotiates directly with the publications.
- eventually, if the photographers are willing, to offer the collection to the Library of Congress if we have created something exceptional.
If you know of someone who would be a good photographer to add to the collection, who shoots film and is a documentary photographer, please pass this photo project on to them.
Using strong photography from all 50 states, I believe we can impact America, just like Roy Stryker’s team of photographers did 80+ years ago.
~ Kenneth Wajda, Project Director/Photographer
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