Brief History of Documentary Photography

Documentary photography chronicles significant and historical events. The term ‘Documentary’ antedates the genre itself that is traced back to 1800s.

During the American Civil War in the 1850s, documentary photography became prominent with notable photographers Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, and Timothy O’Sullivan. They were the major contributors of this time capturing the horrors of American Civil War.

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Mathew Brady

 

Documentary photography continued to gain popularity in the late 19thcentury, where the production of photography became more affordable; thus leading to mass-production. The theme during this period revolved around conditions of the cities and its crises. This was visible in the works of Jacob Riis, who was the most prominent photographer of this time. He was a reporter who was driven by the idea of urban social reform. His most famous works are the ‘How the Other Half Lives’ and ‘The Children of the Slums’ that depicted the dismay of the city life.

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Jacob Riis

 

Later, during the ‘The Great Depression’ photographers documented both the urban and rural sufferings of people. Also during the pre and post World War, Robert Frank did the most famous documentary photography. His work, which is recorded in the book named ‘The Americans’, is credited to be more personal and evocative.

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Robert Frank

 

Over the years, famous names like Allan Sekula, Nicholas Nixon and Pieter Hugo have influenced documentary photography and opened up huge possibilities for the photo of the future to explore this art form with manifold perspective.

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Allan Sekula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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