For Immediate Release: August 22, 2018
Contact: Susan Strano, Marketing Director
802-447-1571 ext. 204
Lumber mill worker, Lowell, VT, 1937
Arthur Rothstein, photographer
Courtesy of the artist
Ground, A Reprise of Photographs from the FSA by Bill McDowell
On view in the John T. Harrison Jr. Orientation Hall of the Bennington Museum is Ground, A Reprise of Photographs from the FSA by Bill McDowell. The Photography Division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documented rural communities throughout America during the Great Depression. Directed by Roy Stryker, the division created thousands of powerful photographs including some of the most iconic images of the era. However, many of the negatives were “killed” by Stryker, often without any apparent reason.
Ground, A Reprise of Photographs from the FSA by Bill McDowell, photographer and University of Vermont professor, arises from these hole-punched negatives. Drawn to the impact of the black hole, he focused on the transformation Stryker brought to the image. By altering the negatives with a hole-punch, Stryker unintentionally created a new image that does not solely belong to the original photographer anymore. McDowell’s selection of images for Ground is from a very particular group of photos taken by different photographers, 1935-1939, the formative years of the Farm Security Administration project. Photographs included in Bennington Museum’s exhibition were taken by Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Carl Mydans, Arthur Rothstein, and John Vachon.
“The term ‘ground’ bears several meanings in McDowell’s work. It simultaneously refers to the agricultural focus of the project and signifies the figure-ground relationship inherent to the image-making process.” states Jamie Franklin, Curator of Bennington Museum. McDowell’s focus on farming and the land—food, shelter, and water—stems from his interest in exploring ideas of temporality. Basic needs become the subject matter, connecting two time periods: the Great Depression of the 1930s and the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession. The hole functions as a portal that connects past and present. “Additionally, my choice to limit the photographs to land and farming was a nod to the origins of the FSA.” McDowell further states, “In our struggle to recover from 2008’s Great Recession, these photographs speak to now even as they confer on past government programs, race and class, damaged and bountiful land, drought, flood and exodus. Starting over. Repeating the past.” -Bill McDowell, from “The Hole is a Mark” in Ground
“Each photograph in Ground is a result of three separate acts of picture-making: the original photographer’s deliberate choices, Stryker’s hole punch, and McDowell’s re-contextualization through meticulous selection, cropping, sequencing, and juxtaposition.” states Franklin. McDowell set up rules for the cropped images: each hole should be the same size and positioned in the center of the frame. Consequently, the hole becomes a mark and the rest of the frame revolves around it, creating an interactive body of work influenced by photographic conventions of the 1930s and today.
About the Museum
Bennington Museum is located at 75 Main Street (Route 9), Bennington, in The Shires of Vermont. The museum is open 10 am to 5 pm daily through October. It is wheelchair accessible. Regular admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and students over 18. Admission is never charged for younger students, museum members, or to visit the museum shop. Visit the museum’s website www.benningtonmuseum.org or call 802-447-1571 for more information.
Bennington Museum is a member of ArtCountry, a consortium of notable art and performance destinations in the scenic northern Berkshires of Massachusetts and southern Green Mountains of Vermont, including The Clark Art Institute, Williams College Museum of Art , Williamstown Theatre Festival (20 minutes away); and MASS MoCA (25minutes away). Visit ArtCountry.org for more information on these five great cultural centers.