Killing the Negative: A Conversation in Art & Verse

Killing the Negative: A Conversation in Art & Verse

If art is an imitation of life, as the saying goes, then how does one define art intended to document grim reality? If the brutal, often stark real life is present, is this art? Is truthtelling in the eye of the beholder, or would some consider it “fake news?” Who or what is controlling the narrative and to what ends?

While looking through Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographs from the Great Depression, visual artist Joel Daniel Phillips stumbled upon a haunting image—a 1936 photograph by Walker Evans with a gaping black hole in the center. This chance discovery of a “killed negative” led Phillips and poet Quraysh Ali Lansana into a multi-year collaborative project: Killing the Negative: A Conversation in Art & Verse. Part meditation and part call-and-response, the project is an ekphrastic rejoinder to FSA Director Roy Stryker’s little-known practice of destroying the photographs he found unappealing—exploring complex intersections of representation, truth, and power.

Introductory Essays by Susan Green, Marcia Manhart Endowed Associate Curator for Contemporary Art & Design at the Philbrook Museum of Art and Erica X. Eisen.

Contributing Poets: U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, Randall Horton, Rose McLarney, Ken Hada, Moheb Soliman and Candace G. Wiley.

“There are many kinds of time in a photograph, just as in a poem… As for the black shot dots, we crumple them up and when we build a fire for dinner, we burn them, asking that anything that would endanger us be put away from us. Then we sing a song of protection and love.”

— U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, excerpt from Blueberry Picking

Signed by Joel Daniel Phillips

Number of Pages: 212

Number of Illustrations: 124

Hardcover Edition

1000 copies

First printing: May 2023

ISBN: 978-1-959567-01-1

LCN: 2023938836