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The Logan Collection Highlights & Shadows: Books on Photography from the Reva and David Logan Collection

Documentary Photography

Documentary photographers and photojournalists used the camera to directly engage with the social and cultural issues of their time. They often wrote the accompanying text or collaborated with a journalist, sociologist, or novelist who supplied the captions or essays that provided the interpretive framework for the images. Photographers Jacob Riis in the 1890s and Margaret Bourke-White in the 1930s and 1940s drew on the power of photography, augmented by sociological or passionate texts that reinforce the photographs’ message, to document social injustice in the hopes of instigating change. Berenice Abbott took a more analytical approach in her Atget-influenced documentation of New York City structures and their changes through time. The author Richard Wright utilized images taken by photographers working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) to illustrate his reproachful “folk history of the Negro in the United States” in 1941. Some documentary photographers bore witness to the culture around them. Arnold Genthe used a hidden camera to document the “exotic” culture of San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1908. He was an outsider to this community, whereas another documenter /photojournalist, Dr. Erich Salomon, secretly photographed members of the ruling class in 1930s Germany from his position as a privileged insider. Walker Evans was one of the first to rebel against reformist-documentary photography in his Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), asserting that photography could only reflect a photographer’s own vision, and could not speak for anyone or anything beyond the photographer’s own subjective experience.

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