LaurenCleathero MajorResearch Project CONTENTSIllustrationsIntroduction ILLUSTRATIONS INTRODUCTIONThisessay seeks to understand the role of documentary in contemporary photographic practicewith specific reference to its display and dissemination. Specifically, themove of the documentary photograph towards the photobook and the gallery, awayfrom traditional forms such as the newspaper or magazine and what effect thishas on the reading and the impact of the image in relation to the intent ofvarying forms.Griersondefined documentary as ‘the creative treatment of actuality.’ (Winston, 1995,p.
11) This suggests that the documentary photograph is not a solely objectivepiece, and instead can be influenced by the photographer’s use of their creativeskills. This idea is consolidated by Ian Walker when speaking of the ‘documentarian’who ‘takes the real and filters it through his or her subjectivity.’ (Walker,2002, p.23) ‘Becausethe majority of photographic uses previous to the term’s introduction were whatwe would now automatically designate as documentary, it becomes clear that thedocumentary concept is historical, not ontological.’ (Photography at the dockpg 169) – while the term documentary was not in use historically, thephotography they were producing would be classed under this sub section of thephotographic genre. ‘Thelate arrival of the category of documentary into photographic parlance impliesthat until it’s formation, photography was understood as innately andinescapably performing a documentary function.
‘ (Photography at the dock pg170) and up until the early 20thcentury, the word document was believed to be applicable to most photographs. –STEPHEN BULL, PHOTOGRAPHY, PG.107. TheTate defines documentary photography as ‘a style of photography that provides astraightforward and accurate representation of people, places, objects andevents…’ (http://www.
tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/d/documentary-photography) Capacityfor objective transcription – photography on the dock pg 171 DiscussCatherine Belsey idea of expressive realism – ‘…telltruths about the period which produced them – about the world in general or about human nature – and that in doing sothey express particular perceptions, the individual insights, of theirauthors.’ (Belsey, 1980, p.2) “‘Documentary Value’ was the phraseJohn Grierson used in reviewing Robert Flaherty’s Moana for a New York newspaper in 1926′ – (Claiming the real,Winston, pg 8) – When the term documentary is first used SECTIONONESOCIALDOCUMENTARY The term ‘documentary’ was not yet incirculation when some of the most poignant images in the forerun to documentaryphotography were being made.
(Bull, 2010, p.107)For example, the likes of Jacob Riisand Lewis Hine. Their work was social documentation, which was later linked tothe term ‘documentary’. (Ibid, SECONDARY REFERENCING.) ‘Photographyrecords the misfortunes of ‘others’ in order to petition the ‘people’ for theneed for social change…’ (Roberts, 1998, p.
82) This type of photography workwas linked to ideas around social reform, which is very much what thedocumentary photograph was in the late 19th century. It was hopedthat by showing people areas in their own society they were not necessarilyaware of would bring about the necessary change to better the lives of thoseless fortunate. ‘social reformers sought to educate a middle-class public with imageswhich made visible those areas of their society where injustice and povertyabounded.’ (Clarke, 1997, p.147) Jacob Riis is significant inthis context as he is considered to mark the beginning of the documentarytradition.
(Clarke, 1997, p.147) Riis pioneered the use of flash photography toallow him to photograph places he couldn’t beforehand, to ‘capture evidence ofinsalubrious and overcrowded tenement housing’, (Franklin, 2016, p.58) in NewYork’s Lower East Side. Riis’ documentation of these spaces was to sitalongside his writing in How the OtherHalf Lives (1890) to be more impactful than his writing alone, and to aid his plight forreform. He found in his role as a journalist that his writing wasn’t enough, ‘I wrote about it, but it seemed to make no impression.'(http://muse.jhu.
edu/article/584847/pdf) So, this implies that Riiswas making the move from the magazine/newspaper to the book he was working on, How the Other Half Lives, as he feltthat this was going to have more of an impression on the people he was tryingto reach with the work. Luc Sante (cited in Franklin,2016, p.58) a New York writer, was verypositive about Riis, describing him as a ‘one man band of social reform…’ However,Riis also had his critics. His use of the magnesium-flash was dangerous,Derrick Price, a Welsh writer said Riis ‘brought terror everywhere he went’.REFERENCE??’They were escaping a camera that,according to Riis’s critics recorded it’s subjects as ‘passive sufferers ofpoverty’ in an ‘act of subjugation’ (Doc. Impulse pg 58, see photography at thedock pg 176) Asecond significantexample in this area of documentary photography is Lewis Hine, who declareshimself as a ‘sociological’ photographer (Clarke, 1997, p.147) Hine’sdocumentary practice spans a range of subject matter, such as immigrants andsweat shops, (Ibid) although he is most well-known for his work around childlabour.
Hine worked as staff photographer for the National Child LaborCommittee (NCLC), with the work he produced over thirteen years thereconsidered to have had a profound impact on the changing of laws surroundingchild labour in the United States of America. His time with the NCLC iscertainly significant/poignantas they were ‘one of the first organizations committed to using photography tobring about change’ (Franklin, 2016, p.59) What seems key about Hine is thatnot only was he recording these details of child workers, but alsodisseminating them. HOW? This dissemination is what gave others access to hiswork and gives proof of the need for change. (Bate, page 50, secondary referencing?)Working as one of the first photographers to openly use their images for change,he is almost pioneering a technique for social change.
Different to the work of Riis forexample, Hine is considered to allow his subjects to ‘retain their own sense ofself.’ (Clarke, 1997, p.148) He does this by alerting people of the presence ofthe camera, this can be seen with his subjects usually looking back at thecamera. Hine is well respected for never exploiting his subjects, he doesn’tsimplify the image for any reason, allowing even small details to have hugepower. (Ibid) Isthis section necessary Lauren??? If so expand, what effect does that have vs.Riis’s approach? Comparehow Hine and Riis both displayed and sieemeinated thir work and the impactseach had with their work. FSA TheFarm Security Administration (FSA) is a government sponsored agency, directedby Roy Stryker and established in 1935.
The FSA was made up of severalphotographers, such as, Dorothea Lange, Margret Bourke-White, Russell Lee,Walker Evans, and Ben Shahn, among others. The 1930’s was very rich forsubjects of documentary photography, with events such as the Wall Street Crashin 1929 and the Great Depression. Many of the photographers under the FSA wereresponding to this. (Clarke, 1997, p.148) ‘Thedepression was seen as the result not of conscious economic processes, but ofunforeseen and controllable forces that were exceptional and therefore in needof patient remedy and not radical transformation.’ (Art of interpution pg 82)…Now expand, what were photographers doing to give this impression in theirimages? Referto William Stott, Documentary expression..
to talk about of the worthy poorbeing promoted rather than the unworthy poor. ‘…theFSA represents the point where notions of reportage in American photographybecome codified as documentary.’ (The art of interruption, pg 79) ‘RoyStryker, the director of the project, not only stipulated the specifics ofregion, milieu, or activity when making assignments, he often further indicatedwhat type of mood, expression, “feeling” he was after – what we would now termthe rhetoric of the image. Those photographers, like Walker Evans, who hadtheir own aesthetic agendas did not fare well at the F.S.A.
‘ (Photography atthe dock pg 178.) ‘Moreover,to the extent that photography is less able to deal with collectivity than withindividuality, work such as the F.S.A. project demonstrates a probablyinevitable slippage from the political to the anecdotal or the emblematic.'(Photography at the dock, 179) PareLorentz – ‘She has selected with an unerring eye. You do not find in herportrait gallery the bindle-stiffs, the drifters, the tramps, the unfortunate,the aimless dregs of a country.’ (Talking about the work of Dorothea Lange,photography at the dock pg 179) ‘…muchof the graphic legacy of the F.
S.A. is currently embalmed in a collectivenostalgia about the 1930’sor enshrined as a humanist monument to the timelessstruggle against adversity or revered as a record of individual photographicachievement.’ – (same as above) ‘The FSA was a rural rehabilitation agency setup under Roosevelt’s New Deal to provide he to those who were destitute or onthe verge of destitution.’ …..’an extensive record of one of the worst affectedareas of the Depression.
‘ (The art of interruption, pg 79) ROSLER SECTIONTWO In1955 the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA) hosted the exhibition, The Family of Man (Steichen 1955) andthis exhibition is representative of a transition in the display and disseminationmodes of documentary photography. ‘…the kinds of photographs found in adocumentary context of newspapers and magazines moved to being exhibited in anart gallery.’ (Bull, 2010, p. 112) The exhibition was curated by photographer Edward Steichen, comprisedof 503 photographs, from 273 artists, coming from 68 countries. The movement/ change in display/form ofthese kinds of photographs is not strictly linear and therefore The Family of Man does not mark the firstinstance in which these types of works were seen in a gallery setting, althoughit is pivotal in the acceptance/progress due to the scale of the exhibition andit’s undoubted success.
The exhibitiontravelled both nationally, throughout the United States and also throughout theglobe, reaching over nine million people between 1955 and 1962. The bookaccompanying the exhibit now remains in permanent print. (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.
1080/03087298.2005.10442813) The exhibition contained photographs whichexplained man to man.
(Steichen, 1986, p.20.) Likemany exhibitions curated by Steichen, the exhibition is described as retaining ‘aspectsof a photojournalistic context.
‘ (Bull, 2010, p.112) Firstly, in consideringthese photojournalistic tendencies, the look of the show should be considered. ‘…themuseum walls resembled the pages of Life…Visitorswalked through the exhibition as if strolling inside the pages of a magazine.’ (Shall I explain what life is???Panzer, 2005, p.20) Similarlyto this, Bull (2010, p.113) likens the exhibition to magazine photojournalismin its concept, presenting to the viewer a ‘humanist’ view, ‘…an approachfamiliar from much magazine photojournalism…’ (Bull, 2010, p.113) So,while this exhibition is significant in the movement away from traditionalforms such as the newspaper and magazines, it’s certainly seems poignant thatSteichen is hanging on to certain elements/aspects/??? From these moretraditional forms. However, what should be considered is why Steichen may have feltthis was necessary and how the move from the newspaper to the gallery walleffected how we read these images, and who reads these images, regardless ofthese elements that have been continued into a new setting.
Firstly,consideration should be given to the change in audience that will occur due tothe change in form. A newspaper for example is very widely read, especially dueto the variety of stories inside. Often, we can engage with a newspaper articleunintentionally, we often see the front page plastered outside of thenewsagents for example, or more so in recent times on the news (TV) or acrosssocial media (online). The newspaper allows for a very wide dissemination of itscontent as it is cheap and widely accessible for the majority of people througha number of channels. Moving this content into a gallery however, couldpotentially reduce its reach, it could be argued. More of a conscious effort isrequired to engage with gallery works, as it becomes more ‘exclusive’.Typically, people pay to view works in a gallery and so it is less readilyavailable for free.
Also, people will usually have to travel to a gallery, andso have more of an awareness of what they are going to see, unlike the way we engagewith a newspaper. This could cause a reduction on the audience. This alsolimits the type of people in which the work can reach. Not everyone in society,particularly at this time would be in a position to pay to see artwork.
To seework in a gallery it requires more of a conscious effort to engage with it thanin the newspaper, and potentially less people will be prepared or ……. to make thiseffort. Typically, you would expect to see a more upper class cut from societyin the gallery setting. While this is less true today, it’s something that youdo have to consider due to the time period in which the exhibition takes place.The questionarises from this as to how the class of an individual will affect their accessibilityto viewing a particular image or exhibition. If we consider how Rosler speaksabout privileged people viewing documentary photography as a form of art in agallery setting, she suggests that the engagement with such art form is toreassure the viewer of their own powerful position. ‘Theliberal documentary assuages any stirrings of conscience in its viewers the wayscratching relieves an itch and simultaneously reassures them about theirrelative wealth and social position…’ (Afterthoughts) Ifthis is true, how would the likes of the working class fit into such a setting,if at all? This statement from Rosler implies a certain, limited, audience tothe documentary photograph as a form of art. Something to think about is whetherthis is relational to the intention and function of the art, or if this is one whichdoesn’t necessarily allow the images to perform their desired function.
If we consider what the function of The Family of Man was, we can thenevaluate its success. Successof the exhibition – opened the gallery up to more people?? However,consideration of the popularity of both the exhibition and the book arguesagainst this point of reduced reach. The exhibition was immensely popular andmillions of people, globally, engaged with the works, was supported through sponsorshipfrom the United States Information Agency (USIA).
Therecould be something to consider in that the move into the gallery space makes itfeel less about engaging with the news and current affairs and more about art,it might attract a completely new audience. I think that this brings to lightthe issue of intention and it’s important to give consideration of the varyingintentions that come with the varying forms. In this case, the intention of thegallery exhibition was to ‘explain man to man’ (Steichen ????). COMPARETO EDITORAL INTENTIONS? Despiteit’s successes, The Family of Man hasbeen criticised, notably/famously by Roland Barthes in The Great Family of Man.
Barthes opinion on the exhibition presentingto us a ‘human community’ was that this ignored differences from our cultureand our history. (Barthes, 2009,p.121-124) Alsoto mention in this section of the essay, reference to the move to photobook forexample giving more editorialcontrol to the photographer. ‘Emblematicof this freedom from editorial control and the increasing emphasis onsupposedly subjective, individual viewpoints on topics was the formation in1947 of Magnum, a co-operative photo agency where all members retain control ofhow their images are used’. (Bull, 2010, p.
111) Photographerswho have self published to allow for this, for example Alec Soth and LittleBrown Mushroom, or Stephen Gill and Nobody Books. Whatis the intent of the newspaper image vs the intent of the gallery?? SECTIONTHREE ThePhotobook can also be seen as a key vehicle in the display and dissemination ofthe contemporary documentary photograph. This mode of display for thedocumentary image became popular with the growth of subjectivity in the fieldof documentary photography. (Walker, 2002, p.22) RobertFrank can be considered to mark the beginning of this tradition, of documentaryphotographers ‘…presenting subjective facts in their photographs.’ (BULL, secondaryreferencing, p.111) With his book TheAmericans, which was to be an influential piece on future photographers.
php?type=related&kv=7130&t=people Frankset out on a tour of America in the 1950’s, with the intention of building hisown point of view on the country, and the publication of this in 1958/9 is whatintroduced ………. To this subjective strand of the documentary photograph, introducingthe photobook as a key vehicle for a photographers opinion. (Bull, 2010, p.111)The photobook allows for this subjective expression, much more so than manyother forms of presentation, forms that were popular prior to this, due to theeditorial control/freedom it allows the photographer. ROBERTFRANK – THE AMERICANSRobertFrank, The Americans (1958?) isconsidered poignant with regard to documentary photography and the photobook,and ‘redefined documentary in terms of a radical photographic style.'(Clarke,1997, p.155) http://web.b.
ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=df6c1c11-9db3-437d-a0c8-754acd6e9b8c%40sessionmgr104&bdata=JmF1dGh0eXBlPXNoaWI%3d#AN=505310993&db=asu SECTIONFOUR CONCLUSION ‘…the term ‘photojournalism’ is used –both within the field and more widely – as a synonym for, rather than asubdiscipline of, the more encompassing and progressive term ‘documentary.”(Franklin, 2016, p.172) – speakabout this somewhere. In theconclusion, come back to grierson’s idea of photography being the creativetreatment of actuality, and Winston asking what is left of actuality after it hasbeen treated creatively.