Read the 1939 article on documentary photography by Elizabeth McCausland.
Write a short bullet list of McCausland’s main points in your learning log. Explain in your own words, in a single paragraph, why this article is relevant to this part of the course.
- Documentary photography is not a fad but a sustained and necessary use of the medium
- It is serious chronicling work, distanced from (but not claiming superiority to) more artistic and experimental genres of photography
- Documentary photography faces outwards to the realities of the world rather than editing it out or projecting notions of beauty onto it
- It uses the realist aesthetic to communicate wider truths e.g. gnarled woman’s hands = social destitution
- Whether photography is art is unimportant in the context of documentary – it is what it is
- “Today” (1939) people want truth rather than emotion, and documentary photography provides a source of visual truth, especially regarding hardships and inequality
- Documentary photography has more in common with the works of Balzac and Dickens than it has with ‘art photography’
- The indexicality and speed of photography make it the perfect medium for capturing scene of social inequality
- Documentary photography is about the subject, never the photographer
Written in the golden age of documentary photography, this is a good summary of its basic principles: objectivity (“truth”), realism, subject-centricity and social focus. It’s almost a manifesto to follow (or challenge in future). It fits well therefore as a context-setter for the project entitled Legacy documentary for social change.