Photography: ROY STRYKER – An FSA-inspired documentary photography project to introduce America to Americans

I’m a day dreamer. I believe the power of photography can change America, and I have proof that it can. Roy Stryker, who was the creator of the FSA Photography Project in the 1930s, post-depression era, used photographs to bridge a divided country. He created a resource for the purpose of “Introducing America to Americans”. The photographs taken by his photographers changed the way people perceived people in rural areas, people who suffered in the dust bowl, lived in poverty, etc.

We live in a time when we label people as Liberals or Conservatives, 1% or 99% more. What are we really? Do we even know? Is the Facebook photo just our best forward side and not even true? Maybe we don’t see the real America?

My goal is the same as Mr. Stryker’s, to introduce America to the Americans, and maybe bridge the gap that we see, but maybe not as big as it looks. I do this by recruiting film photographers to contribute to the collection of documentary photographs. I want to build the collection to represent American life – the most ordinary and extraordinary parts of life here in the United States, in all 50 states.

If we had a clear picture of what our opioid addicted family or neighbors look like, or returning from a war with PTSD, or with a successful new business, or how they train for the Olympics, or how they struggle to feed the kids but not go to bed starving themselves – all kinds of true stories, positive and negative – could we make an impact on Americans?

Seeing yourself from the point of view of documentary photographs is different from images in mainstream news media (extreme news, crime, suffering) or social media snapshots (vacation photos, selfies, doing 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 is like right now? That part of the state outside of the major Front Range cities (Denver, Boulder, Ft. Collins, Colorado Springs) where rural people live? This is an area that I intend to photograph as I don’t even know what life is like there.

I can put any city’s name into a Facebook search and find phone snapshots, but are we? I can research the local news source for that area, but does that match the lives of those who live there, or just crime and news big enough from the police blotter to prompt a news station to report it?

What about the people of Platteville, Colorado, northeast of Boulder? This is their main street.

How is life for them? Do many of them have health care? Are they retired? Are they young families? What is it like to put an ADHD child to bed or ready for school? What do the children do after school, what are they playing outside? Sitting on their iPads? Do adults have to travel to Denver or Boulder to work? Do they have a hard time trying to keep a business alive, or a farm or ranch?

The job of the documentary photographer is to photograph the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. It is more than a source of information. It is a window into our lives from the objective point of view of an outsider. A willingness to look and see things that are not only attractive, or just what we want to be seen as, but a view of who we really are. That’s why we need documentary photographers today.

Some believe that there are so many photos uploaded to social media per minute that the photos don’t matter anymore. I don’t believe this to be true. There are thousands of stories that stand in the shadows, and they need to be illuminated by the light, for their stories to be told.

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This is exactly what this project is aiming for. With documentary photographers. It’s a different mindset from smart street photography with humorous juxtapositions or geometric lighting patterns.

It is seeking to see the truth. If we dare to watch.

What we are looking for

The news and the political climate make it seem like the Liberals and Conservatives are worlds apart. But do we still know each other? Or are we just popping out the stereotypes in our heads?

Photo requirements for the project include:

  • Interiors of shops, businesses, churches, restaurants.
  • People on Main Street wherever you are.
  • People in the side streets of Main Street.
  • Local events – parades, concerts, races, sports and activities.
  • Birthday parties at home, putting children to bed, television rooms, computer rooms.
  • People have hobbies and play.
  • People at work.
  • Various cultures, ethnicities and LGBTQ people.
  • People in difficult situations, struggles.
  • People in happy situations, successes.

There is a website to showcase the collection, – Yes, I named it after him in tribute.

All photographs must be made on real film. This requirement was made to seek more serious documentary photographers and less phone snappers, as there is a retention of photographs – not all images are accepted. And to give a certain level of authenticity to the collection. The submission form requires a high resolution photo as well as a low resolution image of the negative / slide for authenticity.

Future projects and how to get involved

There will be invitations based on the ability and quality of the photographer’s work to be part of the collective of photographers contributing to the collection. We already have 6 photographers, from six different states.

In the end, the photographs will be:

  • used for a book project – a high quality, 100 page photo book.
  • posted on website, searchable by state.
  • shown in gallery shows.
  • available for sale to publications – the photographer retains all rights to his images at all times and negotiates directly with the publications.
  • possibly, if the photographers wish, donate the collection to the Library of Congress if we have created something exceptional.

If you are a film photographer who would like to contribute, please see the information on the website,, to join. We need you! Click it Become an FSA Photographer connect.

If you know of anyone who would be a good photographer to add to the collection, who shoots films and who is a documentary photographer, please forward this photo project to them.
By using strong photographs from all 50 states, I think we can make an impact on America just like Roy Stryker’s team of photographers did over 80 years ago.

~ Kenneth Wajda, Project Director / Photographer

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