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?
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? Do they 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, 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 shined on them, to have their stories told.
RoyStryker.com 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.