Early Social Documentary

I’ve held back from starting the coursework whilst attempting to collate the previous module’s work for assessment, that’s done now. I have looked at the course notes a few times and after wandering around the various assignments I have tried to stay in Assignment One – “Social Documentary”. And I was interested to see various coincidences/references to previous work in the course

It was a curious coincidence that one of the research suggestions was a Youtube “Masters of Photography” video entitled Alfred Steiglitz: The Eloquent Eye (1999) www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YhwgdtphE . I say coincidence as I had just recently recorded a PBS broadcast of another “Master of Photography” film on Ansel Adams.

It was Steiglitz of course who provide one of Adams’ first one man shows at the “Place”  in New York and the key motivation that Steiglitz provided Adams is another coincidence here. The film on Adams didn’t change my view of him; clearly still a seminal figure in the development of the medium of photography in the early to mid twentieth century, a campaigner for the environment and, when other photographers saw the need to document the plight of the people during the recession, Adams decided to continue photographing the wilderness. Whereas Steiglitz will be remembered for not only his photography, but also for the work in nurturing some key painters and photographers as well as being the first to bring Picasso in a one man show to America. He saw the need to bring credibility and respect for photography as a medium and worked very to do so, and to a large extent he helped form the notion that a photograph could be a work of art.

And then there were the references to some of the pioneers of photography, perhaps more specifically documentary photography and I remembered a debate I had on the WeAreOca site soon after I enrolled see here http://www.weareoca.com/photography/context-and-narrative/. Reading through the thread again after this time I think the arguments still hold well, from both sides – though I still hold that Fenton still viewed a truth not available to the masses, but then I’m still not sure he was all that interested in them. Both Brady (also mentioned in the early references in the course) and Fenton were acknowledged “shapers” of the landscape, moving the scenery to elicit a stronger narrative pull for the viewer. Only a few months ago I would still have held strong views about the photographers need to record and not to interfere; I now see that as naïve. Naïve in the sense that even a different perspective of the same scene can draw a different response, and to ensure, as best as the photographer can, to communicate either a strong editorial comment or, to leave the viewer in a state of indeterminacy – by design, is now something I feel as quite important. I have written about Fenton here also http://jsu-photo.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/war-peace.html

And finally there is the mention of another iconic image, that of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother. Radio 3 had a dramatisation of the taking of this image – the programme is no longer available on download  www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00w5qv0 but I have recorded and will enjoy listening to it again.

No doubt these familiar names will surface again.


3 thoughts on “Early Social Documentary

  1. Well – you certainly got me surfing the web again! That WeAreOCA debate was a good one, and interesting to note how you have expanded your view on manipulation of the image.

  2. Pingback: The Prix Pictet at the Saatchi Gallery 20th October 2012 | John Umney – Gesture and Meaning

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