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Photo Essay The Tradition of the Photo Essay

Dorothea Lange, Ditched, Stalled, and Stranded San Joaquin Valley, California, 1935 Copyright The Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift

Diane Arbus Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962 Š The Estate of Diane Arbus

of Paul S. Taylor Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography


If you've ever felt that photo was not enough to really get at a subject, then why not try your hand at shooting a photo essay or a picture story? Both terms refer to stories told using a number of feature photographs, which, by definition, are not extremely time-sensitive. •Photo essays – let's settle into this term - can range, then, from something like the documentary photos seen in DoubleTake, a magazine published by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (check out their Web site at doubletakemagazine.org), to the photos used to illustrate an article on the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood in The New York Times.

Used with permission from: New York Institute of Photography, Copyright © 2001


•Unlike a spot news photo, a feature photo's stress on human interest means it has a life span that can extend beyond the immediate historical moment in which it was formed. Whether the story shows us the efforts of local unionists to coax better wages and working conditions from a factory owner, or a day-in-the-life of a Silicon Alley C.E.O., these stories appeal to human interest and have the ability to endure beyond the topicality of the day‘s headlines. •Choosing a subject and then photographing that theme, location or person in-depth – over the course of days, weeks, even months – will produce a set of images that are entirely different from those you would get from a shorter investigation of that same subject. •And even if you undertake a photo essay without knowing where or whether it might be published – perhaps it will be an addition to your portfolio, or something to show friends and family – we bet you'll find the process of creating an in-depth project (or simply a sequential one) as exhilarating and rewarding as getting the final prints published or exhibited. •Why? Because working on a photo essay over a period of time invariably means that you will •get to know people, places, and who-knows-what-else better than you would without your •camera and often in ways that will push you in new directions. Used with permission from: New York Institute of Photography, Copyright © 2001


A documentary photographer who spends a month living with homeless people in a shelter in New York City, for example, is inevitably going to walk away from that experience not just with photographs but with different ideas, perhaps, about poverty or life on the street. Someone who documents a story about midwives may learn interesting lessons about birthing options in a society generally skeptical of M.D. alternatives.

And in many ways that's exactly what the most powerful photo essays have traditionally been all about – altering conventional perceptions.

Used with permission from: New York Institute of Photography, Copyright © 2001


A few photographers who created photos and photo essays that altered perceptions

Used with permission from: New York Institute of Photography, Copyright Š 2001


During the U.S. Civil War, Mathew Brady – an established portrait photographer – hired a group of men to assist him in documenting the drudgery and death of the battlefield. Many of the Civil War images attributed to Brady, then, were actually photographed – and not necessarily even with his direct supervision – by his camera operators.

But Brady's curatorial-like approach to photographing the war demonstrates that Brady had a photojournalist's "nose for a story." He understood the opportunity that photography presented as a means of documenting the nation's history and he was willing to take his cameras and equipment – and to organize other men to do the same – onto the field of battle to get the story. Brady was alert to the possibility of stockpiling a collection of images of a significant historical event for posterity. Used with permission from: New York Institute of Photography, Copyright © 2001


•Brady's contemporaries were affected by the images too. His photographs of corpses on the battlefield at Antietam shocked a nation unaccustomed to pictures of the carnage of war. The New York Times described Brady's exhibit of "The Dead of Antietam" as an event that brought "home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war."

And it's this kind of impact that photojournalism – and the photo essay – has traditionally pursued. Used with permission from: New York Institute of Photography, Copyright © 2001


At the turn of the century, images of the poor and downtrodden – immigrants making their way through Ellis Island or small children working in factories – were the subject of greatest interest to photographers working within this tradition.

Used with permission from:

New York Institute of Photography, Copyright © 2001


•

Jacob Riis, for example, was a police reporter who had unique access to the crowded tenements of the Lower East Side in New York City, where many immigrants lived in poverty. He used the camera to document the squalid conditions in which many of these people lived. Riis was not in any way particularly concerned about the aesthetics of his photography. He saw his work as a straightforward act of documentation that would shock and therefore transform public sentiment in such a way that improvements would be inevitable.

Jacob Riis, Home of an Italian Ragpicker 1888

Jacob Riis, Bandit's Roost, 59 1/2 Mulberry Street, c. 1888 Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography

Used with permission from: New York Institute of Photography, Copyright Š 2001


•It's no surprise then that Lewis Hine, a photographer who documented children working in factories across the country in the first decade of the twentieth century, was trained as a sociologist and used his camera primarily as a tool for instigating social reform.

Lewis Hine, Girl worker in Carolina cotton mill, 1908 Š The Estate of Lewis Hine

Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography


In his pursuit of the cause, Hine was accused of muckraking and many factory owners refused to grant him permission to take photographs. He sometimes had to get creative just to get the story, by hiding his camera and posing as a fire inspector.

But Hine's persistence eventually paid off. Labor laws finally changed, and Owen Lovejoy, then Chairman of the National Child Labor Committee, wrote that "the work Hine did for this reform was more responsible than all other efforts in bringing the need to public attention." The photographer's persistence and dedication to his subject were the primary reasons. "Perhaps you are weary of child labor pictures," he reportedly said. "Well, so are the rest of us, but we propose to make you and the whole country so sick and tired of the whole business that when the time for action comes, child labor pictures will be records of the past." ~Lewis Hine Lewis Hine Newsie ca 1912 © The Estate of Lewis Hine Used with permission from: New York Institute of Photography, Copyright © 2001


Bourke White, Margaret, American, 1904-1971 •

"In the U.S. her work during the 1930s established her reputation as a journalist. She wrote and photographed articles about industry, drought in the Texas panhandle, and migrant labor. In 1936 she collaborated with the writer Erskine Caldwell on a project documenting the life of sharecroppers in the southern U.S.; the pictures and text appeared in 1937 in the book You Have Seen Their Faces. "In 1936 Bourke White Joined Alfred Eisenstaedt, Peter Stackpole, and Thomas McAvoy to form the photographic staff of Henry Luce's new venture, Life magazine. She was sent to Montana to document the construction of Fort Peck Dam. Her pictures were used for the lead article of the first issue, and one photograph of the dam was chosen as the first cover illustration for the magazine.

Margaret Bourke-White, Bread Line during the Louisville flood, Kentucky, 1937 Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography

Margaret Bourke-White, Fort Peck Dam, 1936

Text from The Encyclopedia of Photography (1984)


•"Margaret Bourke White's career as a photojournalist and industrial photographer spanned three decades from 1927 until the mid 1950s. She became one of the most celebrated photographers of that period, producing notable work throughout the United States, Europe, Russia, and India. She was born in New York City and became interested in photography through a course at Columbia University given by Clarence H. White, dean of American pictorial photographers. Her first published photographs, depicting campus scenes, appeared in the Cornell University newspaper; she graduated from Cornell in 1927.

Margaret Bourke-White Tractor Factory, Stalingrad 1930

Text from The Encyclopedia of Photography (1984)\ Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography


Margaret BourkeWhite Cocktails on Gorky Street, Moscow 1941

•

•

Margaret Bourke-White At Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territory, Canada 1937

"Bourke White's professional career began with an assignment to photograph steel mill activities in Cleveland. Subsequent industrial work brought her to the attention of Henry Robinson Luce, who hired her to do assignments for his newly launched Fortune magazine. She produced extensive picture essays on the meat packing plants of Chicago, the upstate New York glass blowing industry, and the Indiana stone quarries, among other subjects. She also went to the Ruhr valley of Germany, where she documented the steel industry and the rearmament of the German nation. "In 1930 she made the first of several trips to Russia; with official permission she photographed the birth of industrial expansion and the lifestyle of the people. Her pictures appeared in Fortune, the New York Times Magazine, and in 1931 in her first book, Eyes on Russia. Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography

Text from The Encyclopedia of Photography (1984)


Margaret Bourke-White Nazi Storm Troopers' training class 1938

Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography

Margaret Bourke-White Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne 1945


Margaret Bourke-White Dr. Kurt Lisso, Leipzig's city treasurer, and his wife and daughter after taking poison to avoid surrender to U.S. troops, Leipzig 1945 Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography


Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography

Margaret Bourke-White Nuremberg 1945


Margaret Bourke-White Prisoners at Buchenwald 1945

Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography


Weegee (Arthur Fellig) Summer, Lower East Side 1937

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) Simply Add Boiling Water 1937 © The Weegee Collection Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography


Diane Arbus, American, 1923-1971

Diane Arbus Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1967 Š The Estate of Diane Arbus

Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography


Diane Arbus Puerto Rican woman with a beauty mark, N.Y.C. 1965 Š The Estate of Diane Arbus

Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography

Arbus, Diane American, 1923-1971 A pivotal figure in contemporary documentary photography, Diane Arbus produced a substantial body of work before her suicide in 1971. Her unrelentingly direct photographs of people who live on the edge of societal acceptance, as well as those photographs depicting supposedly "normal" people in a way that sharply outlines the cracks in their public masks, were controversial at the time of their creation and remain so today.

Text from The Encyclopedia of Photography (1984)


Diane Arbus, Mexican dwarf in his hotel room in N.Y.C., 1970, © The Estate of Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus, Untitled (7), 1970-71 © The Estate of Diane Arbus Diane Arbus Albino sword swallower at a carnival, Md., 1970 © The Estate of Diane Arbus Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography


Diane Arbus, A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y. 1970 , Š The Estate of Diane Arbus

Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography


Contemporary Photo Essays Investigate contemporary photo essays by looking at any of the following websites: • http://www.life.com/Life/lifephotos.html • doubletakemagazine.org


Used for non-profit, educational purposes for students of Mary Bailey Thomas copied or adapted from the following sources: •

Credit to "masters-of-photography.com" as the source for each photo scan noted. "Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography".

•Thanks to New York Institute of Photography for granting me permission to use an article from their website: “Photo Essay - The Tradition of the Photo Essay” Copyright © 2001, New York Institute of Photography, 211 East 43rd Street, Dept. WWW, New York, NY 10017 U.S.A. info@nyip.com

the Tradition of the Photo-essay  

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