Documentary Photography in America

1756 Words7 Pages
While the pictoralism movement dominated photography for majority of the eighteenth century, by the 1880’s another group of photographers were ready to captivate the world with a new medium of photography. This medium was meant to not only convey information, but to also awake public conscience to injustices around the world. This medium is what is known as documentary photography. In America, documentary photographers captured images ranging from poverty, unemployment, and hungry families. In The History of Photography, art historian and author Beaumont Newhall claims that, “The importance of these photographs lies in their power not only to inform us, to move us. They are at once interpretations and records; although they are no longer topical, they contain qualities which will last long as man is concerned with his brother.”1 Documentary photography not only poses as a record of recent universal events but also as valuable evidence of societal issues for centuries to come.
Jacob Riis was one of the first documentary photographers to become directly involved in the American social reform movement. Riis was a New York police reporter whose photos showcased ghastly poverty in the Lower East Side. Immigrant families lived in the slums and usually crammed ten to fifteen people in tenement houses. At the time Riis took these photographs, there was a shocking lack of New York laws regarding housing conditions. The tenements resembled barracks, there was no running water, stoves
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