Exposed: I saw that coming
John Beasly Greene, Timothy O’Sullivan, Jacob Riis, Dorothea Lange, Life Magazine, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Manuel Rivera Ortiz, Plato, Miguel Rio Branco. Ask yourself…
what do they have in common?
For you, photo junkie, a free pass card to this quick chronological trip by photos and writing
Like happens with most of you, I’ve known the characters for a long time, but I recently did this question, convenient indulgence for my extravagant mania of fragmenting and grouping pieces , taking the tangible divergent and conveying it to a clear common ground, manipulating associations and parallels and luckily to read not only the facts, but the context. That’s where it got me :
They mastered the leads , they are the hands opening new chapters inviting to this chronological range of the most fascinating revolution tale ever told (considering this place called Photo Junkie Club) to intercept all the arrows and to converge them to one same target: Photography doesn’t change the world…the world changes the photography.
Documentary photography entails all the truth about it. It has to do with grandiosity, whatever…no super hero complex, so pay attention if you decided for the right occupation. If you are hanging around in the scene for a considerable time and have watched, and inevitably learned something about it, it’s predictable to agree with this ultimate thought. Throw spotlight on the tangled hints of anticipated changes, the impact of life reportage, social transformations, the crises and conflicts, how the world operates, historical social economic sets determining movements and the advance on “let’s see what happens from now on”
It’s being always like this, a cyclic mode and certainly I’m not the only one inspired by that.
I’m not going to raise more than a century of documentary photography history in two pages, particularly because I strongly believe that the History can oblige the memorization of names and dates (no complaints from this side, eventually I still want to be the girl in the room who has a say) but my focus, what thrilled me as a photo junkie is the effect of transformations. Transformations interest me. Put yourself into the retrospect, look around , look back there and the excitement of a comfortable place to witness the butterfly effects coming with winds from a epoch vested by “once upon a time”
So what I ‘m compelled to do is to offer you a free pass card. A round trip with interesting connections into the evolution of the industry, the occupation itself and the society (in this case, aka audience) mentality. A seat in the window watching the symbiosis of scenes: documentary photography- photojournalism- contemporary documentary projects. A journey when photography begins as documentation tool to finally assume its need for expression . The jungle where objectivity was overmatched by subjectivity, the period when the romantic view became a commercial one where all the signs pointed us out to this familiar place: the freaking tempting tech generation. And like you comrades, I made myself adapted and been enjoying some treats. ‘The Jetsons’ doesn’t seem that extraordinary anymore. In some angles on the idea of future, I can be caught by surprise or impending frustration. Example: my lack of imagination when I buried in the school’s yard how I’d imagine 2000. I underestimated ‘the all of this’ package (my bad, Mr. Gates and Mr. Jobs) But documentary photography never fails us, it comes with the predictability of upheavals. If you pay attention, each ‘new era’ minimizes the surprises and you can frequently tell yourself ‘I saw that coming’
If you have said to John Greene around 1850 that today there would be something called google and everyone in the planet would be visiting all the images possible of the Egypt ruins in 2 seconds, imagine his skeptical face front of all his lifetime hard work documenting , proving and contesting myths, making sure that people in years later would know that the ruins existed.
Lucky us that there were O’Sullivan and George Bernard fighting for images during American Civil War and daring publishers as Matthew Brady making sure to serve the History archives. Close your eyes, take a breath and jumping to 150 years later, some things don’t change; conflicts and interests will ever rule human society, but now the struggle assumes different forms : we eliminate the worries on ‘if’ there will be an image, to manage the saturation of them and press mobilization from everywhere in every part of the globe. And like Tim Hetherington we came concentrated not on the fact ‘there’s a war happening’, but in the human aspect and effect “ The individuals where the war happens ”
Jacob Riis and Lewis Hines happened in the late of 19th century restless with rolls of films denouncing from public healthy to child labor realities to ensure the pioneering on urban social issues and the lead role on movements reports. Suddenly Eugene Richards happened decades later, showing that denouncing is easy, to make it object of reflection, that requires more of an art principle
If there’s something good from the Great Depression is to realize that in the 30s we could rely on the social commitment of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. Documentary photography becomes to make more sense than ever and documentary photographers become to embrace a responsibility, in a period when rural turmoil and urban social changes were being the fuse for commotion. As result of the atmosphere, the climax happened, Life magazine changed perspective and was redefined as a new venue. Photojournalism begins to be taken seriously
Paolo Pellegrin and Stanley Greene, soldiers from the future, they took the formula and added to it more sophistication
Then came the Golden decade..1950..the war and the post war times, the fear, the limbo, and the records welcoming Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier- Bresson, Robert Frank , Seymour affiliates. Following the circus you’d meet Winogrand, Friedlander, and Arbus wandering in their own paths. They’d tell the story guided by manipulating the objective, sips of boldness compelled “to make think” influenced by the precise and immediate touch to that moment . People has to know, people has to see, people has to feel. Documentary Photography is back now shaped to invoice in the name of subjects, and personal projects becomes popular and called attention, rapidly mobilizing outlet for contemporary issues. Fred Lonidier , Martha Rosler ‘came to the sun’ and enlightened the contrasts of privileges elites and impoverished ones
VII Photo Agency conquest the market, the galleries becomes to deal it as art, Luc Delahaye, Manuel Rivera Ortiz, Nicholas Nixon, Peter Hugo made sure of that.
Something more happened …something I’m grateful for: documentary photography triumphed being so personal as professional, becomes to be a mirror not only for the subject, but specially of the photographer . Some matters like authorship has brought to light. Photographers were given the right to expose and to share their reflections . Plato would give his blessing “Everything that affect the senses can be considered dependent mutable realities and they are images of the unintelligible reality.” Subjectivity, imagery, creativity, interrogations opened one door, and from this door came in: David Alan Harvey, D’Agata, Miguel Rio Branco, Eugene Smith, Ackerman, Luc Delahaye, Christopher Anderson and the house settled more interesting , loud, because documentary photography turned out daring, intriguing, a sensorial challenging, an ambiguous sensitive puzzle and a new bridge to interact with the audience.
Analog and digital , the fracture at publications, Apple, the new version of Iphone, if Ipad is new saint grahal, the flux of information, the communication devices, the news run fast, the twitter, the facebook , the instagram…doesn’t matter how it changes, one thing you can count on:
documentary photography will be always powerful, a good image always appreciated, because photography can resist time, but can’t betray ‘reality’. It’s the closer of uncorrupted method and makes it all connected: the history, the society, the hints on the future. This trip will never be over. I can’t wait for the next destination, for the next piece.
I can see that coming…