“Much as many families who lived through the Great Depression sought to make use of every scrap of food, clothing, or other material resource, McDowell has fashioned his contemporary creative endeavor from that which has been cast off, and in so doing has discovered a way to achieve common ground between images others created in the past and the ones he has printed for the first time in the present.”— Jock Reynolds, Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Yale University Art Gallery; billmcdowellphoto.com

In “Ground” (Daylight Books, April 2016), Bill McDowell has assembled photographs made from the “killed” negatives of noted practitioners who were commissioned by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) from 1934-1943 to document the plight of poor farmers in America during the Great Depression. The FSA photography division was run by Roy Stryker, who routinely defaced FSA negatives with a hole punch to prevent them from being printed, much to the consternation of the photographers.

McDowell first encountered a print made from a FSA “killed” negative in a magazine article about Michael Lesy’s book Long Time Coming (2002) about FSA Photography. He had a powerful, almost visceral reaction to the image. He was struck by how the presence and placement of the black hole imbued the picture made over sixty years ago with a sense of immediacy and a new visual vocabulary that could be used poetically in the current moment.

McDowell downloaded the photographs for his project from the Library of Congress website which is home to the FSA’s archive of over 145,000 images. The noted FSA photographers represented in Ground are: Paul CarterWalker EvansTheodor JungRussell LeeCarl MydansArthur RothsteinBen ShahnJohn Vachon, and Marion Post Wolcott, and include several photographs from 1936 that Walker Evans had made for Let Us Know Praise Famous Men, the book he published with James Agee.

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