On Assignment

The Kosti Ruohomaa Black Star Collection consists of the lion’s share of Ruohomaa’s professional work covering the period of 1944-1961. The collection is broken down by assignment. There are bankers boxes filled with manila envelopes, each containing the various components of an assignment: negatives, contact sheets, notes, correspondence, captions and story narratives. Contact sheets are often marked up with wax pencil identifying the selects and the proposed crop lines of how the images should appear in print. In most cases a chosen few were published with a story and the rest filed away, seen by few people other than Ruohomaa and his editors.

Each of these assignments give us the opportunity to really understand how Ruohomaa approached a subject. The contact sheet is a print of a roll or sequence of negatives. It would have been Kosti’s first look at what he captured on film, and provides a uniquely intimate glimpse into his working process. It records each step on the route to arriving at an image, providing a rare behind-the-scenes sense of walking alongside Kosti and seeing through his eyes.

Monhegan Island

The assignment examined here came at the point in Kosti’s career when he could pitch his own ideas, having gained considerable respect from his agency and their clients. The Monhegan story features many of his favorite themes, including winter, fog, tradition, man vs nature, and isolation. He was acutely aware of the rapidly changing way of life facing so many Mainers engaged in traditional livelihoods and saw the island’s remoteness as an opportunity to capture the lobster fishing “industry” before modern times changed it. Kosti reflected to Black Star: “The people of Monhegan village, there are about ninety year round residents; I know most of the people by now. They are photographically so symbolic of that fast disappearing person, the individual character.”