BA Phot

C&N Part 1: The photograph as document

- Page 2 - Project 2 -


Preamble - Project 1, Eyewitness - Exc. 1 - Project 2, Photojournalism - Project 3, Reportage - Exc. 2 - Project 4, The gallery wall – documentary as art - Exc. 3 - Project 5, The manipulated image - Exc. 4 - Exc. 5 - Upsum

C-B and surrealism - irony - Late photography - McMurdo - Meyerowitz - objectivity in citizen journalism - Pickering - Rosler - Sanguinetti - Seawright - street photography

See the blog, 1st December for consideration of the referencing used on this page.
And further comments on local referencing here.

Project 2 - Photojournalism

[spellchecked ]

[12Dec19, p.26] Photojournalism is 'news imagery'. While some might perceive it as factual and objective, as we are learning, it is filtered through numerous selection processes (and in newspapers in particular, the editorial perspective of the publisher.

In addition, as I keep mentioning, and as is beginning to emerge in the course material [2], the viewer brings their own perspectives to the process, including what newspaper to read (and, increasingly which social media channels to follow).

We are directed to three chapters in La Grange [7] (it's just as well I bought a copy) featuring our recent friend Martha Rosler, an old friend, Susan Sontag and the new Abigail Solomon-Godeau, two introduced with a short quote.

[14Dec19] La Grange [7] is a fascinating book. On the back cover, it states that the author "has a particular interest in demystifying critical theory" which is pleasing to know. The book is a mixture of articles (or longer pieces) or summaries of those with extensive quotes.

We were directed to read a Rosler essay at the end of the previous section and we start with more Rosler and then Sontag here. I am working through the Sontag at the moment but will take a break for this general comment. I find it curious that neither of these critics seem to like photographs much. Sontag in particular writes beautifully and (it seems) profoundly but it is all so relentlessly negative. Although Rosler wrote Afterthoughts in 1981 and Sontag's On Photography was published in 1977, so getting on for 40 years ago in both cases, I cannot but wonder whether it was criticism like this that led to the current tendency for photography, particularly modern portrait photography to be so glum? The annual Taylor Wessing show (2018 here, I'm waiting for my new Student Art Card to arrive before experiencing this year's selection) has been criticised, not least by this writer, for its concentration on the negative.

'amid the 50-odd images selected (from several thousand submissions), there is not a smile to be seen' Sunday Times, 17Oct18 [8]
'The main feature of the pictures is their sentimentality', Evening Standard, 17Oct18 [9]

I noted one Sontag quote that, in some ways, negates (or at least undermines) much of which she writes elsewhere. Page 37 of La Grange [7] quotes page 53 of On Photography (is all the Sontag taken from there?),

photographs do not seem strongly bound by the intention of the photographer Sontag in La Grange [7], p.37

I take this to mean that when the viewer (in this case Sontag) interprets a photograph or a body of work, they can only make guesses about their (the photographers') purpose: the result is filtered through the viewer's conceptions, preconceptions and prejudices, is susceptible to a myriad of viewer-dependent interpretations, and might tell us as much (or more) about the viewer than the artist.

The course material [2, pp.26-7] summarises the positions of three writers on Photojournalism (all examined in La Grange[7]) two of which we already know (I had got rather bogged down with this section of the course, making extensive notes on the three opinions but have come to my senses).

Rosler — that socially aware photographers taking and promoting ethically evaluative photograph (see Barrett [10]) merely reinforce and entrench the social divide.

Sontag - early writings, war photographs acclimatise the public to atrocities. Later she wrote of compassion fatigue.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau wrote of the insider/outsider [try to find this one] calls for a 'middle way' between the voyeuristic, disapproving approach and an involved, indulgent viewpoint.

Research point

In my view - Rosler starts from a ideological standpoint so entrenched that her views seem to stem from political prejudgement rather than sociological or aesthetic evaluation.

Sontag - while there is likely some truth in her assertion (in the same way there is a view that video games can engender violence [i] and pornography can underlie sexual abuse [ii]), my memory of the time of the Vietnam War is that the daily dissemination in newspapers and on television of images of atrocities of war and of the dead American soldiers in body bags changed attitudes towards the war in the American public.

[19Dec] The two Vietnam images that first come to mind are Nick Ut's fleeing villagers (fig. B1) and Eddie Adams' execution (fig. B2)

Nick Ut Eddie Adams Jeff Widener Richard Drew
Box B
1. Nick Ut, Villagers Fleeing a Napalm Strike, 1972
2. Eddie Adams, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Vietcong prisoner, Nguyen Van Lem, on a Saigon street, 1968.
3. Jeff Widener (AP), Tank Man, Tiananmen Square, 1989
4. Richard Drew (AP), Falling Man, September 11, 2001
© the artists or their estates or representatives

Richard Pyle (an AP correspondent who covered Vietnam 1968-73), reviewing a 2013 exhibition of Vietnam press images for the New York Times [iii] acknowledges that influence, though he specifies its limits and comments interestingly on differences between that era and citizen journalism. [get a look at the Max Hastings book and find a quote]

When President John F. Kennedy saw the photo of the burning monk, he reportedly remarked, “We’ve got to do something about that regime.” Nine years later, President Richard Nixon and an aide speculated about whether the “napalm girl” photo was somehow faked.
But for all their dramatic effect, and despite some who insist otherwise, none of the photos had enough impact to end, or even shorten, a war that went on for three more years after Nick Ut’s shutter clicked. …
[quoting Hal Buell] the singular quality of Vietnam’s combat photography … can help put down the nonsense that so-called citizen journalism is a meaningful source of fact about strife, or any other subject. Richard Pyle, Vietnam War Photos That Made a Difference, New York Times, 12 Sep 2013

A little more recently, two journalistic images that had immediate and lasting impact globally and still resonate personally are the Tiananmen Square confrontation (fig. B3) and a 9/11 photograph (fig. B4) .

The Independent [iv] reports that "This extraordinary moment was captured by five foreign press photographers from a hotel balconies looking down on the horrors below".

The New York Times 100 Photos, The Most Influential Images of All Time is always worth a look. I note that three of my four images (Ut, Widener and Drew) are on the list.

(i) Anderson, C. A. (2003) Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions [online]. American Psychological Association. Available from: [Accessed 19 December 2019]
(ii) Bergen, R.K. & Bogle, K.A. (2000) Exploring the connection between pornography and sexual violence [online]. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Available from: [Accessed 19 December 2019]
(iii) Pyle, R. (2013) Vietnam War Photos That Made a Difference [online]. New York Times. Available from: [Accessed 19 December 2019]
(iv) Sommerlad, J (2019) Tiananmen Square massacre: Who was the Tank Man and how is he being remembered today? [online]. The Independent. Available from: [Accessed 19 December 2019]

Local Referencing

My approach to referencing is still under development. Here I felt the need for a localised form of citation, for links only pertinent to this small section of the course. The Roman numerals approach seems to work in differentiating the local from the page-wide references.
There also seems to be development on the use of daggers and other footnote symbols that are being used locally.
My current, new rule of thumb might be that anything within HTML <hr>s (i.e. the lines below and above) can have local citations denoted by Roman numerals and local footnotes, allowing the reuse of dagger symbols (etc.) within a single web page.
For web pages as a whole, as stated in the Blog for 1st December, the use of Wikipedia-style is still intended with formal Harvard referencing reserved for tutor submissions.
[21Mar20] and further developments here

On the inside/out concept, the question is posed, 'Do you need to be an insider in order to produce a successful documentary project?'

Aftermath and aesthetics

[19Dec p.28]

The course material [2, p.28] notes that photography has switched from depicting events to depicting their effects - the aftermath, 'aesthetically beautiful images of places of devastation'. This, we are told, evokes the C19th Crimean War images of Roger Fenton: it states, '[c]ontemporary versions of this form are usually devoid of people and engender a pensive mindset in the viewer' but I think this is misleading. The driving reason for this was technical, not aesthetic and derives from the unwieldiness of Fenton’s glass plate cameras and the slowness of the media, requiring lengthy exposures, though I have noted, 'he consciously avoided photographing dead and wounded soldiers'. The same restrictions applied to US photographers working on their Civil War, such as Mathew Brady and Timothy O'Sullivan.

We are referred to David Campany's essay, Safety in numbness [11].

See also LPE.

Box C
The base of the North Tower, looking east,
toward the Woolworth Building
, 2001
© Joel Meyerowitz
Joel Meyerowitz
b: 1938 NY
Site - Wikipedia

Campany considers the official photographic approach to 9/11. Only one photographer was allowed on the site immediately after the event, Joel Meyerowitz who worked with a 'sixty-year old Deardorff plate camera'. Channel 4 broadcast a programme about this work and Campany contrasts the continuous coverage in other media with this approach — serious event = serious camera to take serious photographs, a contrast 'between the complexity of the geopolitical situation and the simplicity of Meyerowitz’ camera and working method. There was a suggestion that photography rather than television might be the better medium for ‘official history’ and ‘images of record’. The photographs were being positioned as superior to the television programme in which they were presented'.

Campany sees this as a notable example of an increasing trend towards aftermath coverage of events. He states, 'They assume an aesthetic of utility closer to forensic photography than traditional photojournalism' and I am reminded of Weegee's 1940s work, photographing crime scenes. He quotes Peter Wollen's terminology of hot photography of events and cool photography of aftermaths. 'It turns up late, wanders through the places where things have happened totting up the effects of the world’s activity. ' It leaves the reporting of events to other media.

Given [this is me speculating here] given that we have seen (as Roslen quoted Szarkowski writing in 1967, see above) a 'new generation of photographers direct[ing] the documentary approach toward more personal ends', perhaps this is the next stage of that development.

Campany goes on to examine the ability of the camera to freeze a fragment of an event and how that image can come to symbolise the whole event and that concentration can de-necessitate or perhaps prevent the consideration of the wider context of that event. The use of freeze-frames in television and cinema takes advantage of that implicit documentary superiority of the still image. But this, Campany says, is changing. The growth of the information age means that a single still image is no longer sufficient to represent an event and, perhaps, the residual 'popular consciousness' regarding the special significance of the still is partly nostalgia for simpler times.

This leads to the emergence of the more interpretive (and more subject to interpretation) post-event, aftermath, late photograph.

To evaluate this, Campany considers before, during and after photographs - both as applied to a particular event and to photography in general. Starting with the latter the following periods of activity are identified:
pre 1920 — photography and communications were too slow to be relevant in this context.
1920s+ — the rise of print journalism and technical advances in photography, it became the medium by which the knowledge of events were disseminated, shared and understood.
late 1960s+ — with the availability of portable video cameras, print gave way to TV journalism, the public expects events to be reported in real time, most reported still images are frames from video and the role of photography has become the depiction of the effects of events.
[Nowadays —many of the public obtain their news and information through social media rather than news media, but Campany's essay was published in 2003, before this latest transformation had taken place.]

Campany mentions the C19th war images of Fenton and Brady, but notes that similarities to late photography superficial, because it was only with the availability of the moving image that the significance of the still image became apparent, most notably in the 1950s and 60s when capture of the decisive moment [12] contrasted with (filmed) cinematic treatment. The rise of digital media with the capability of replay and freeze frames has supplanted photography's superiority in this respect. Campany notes that although Robert Lebeck’s Kiosk: a history of photojournalism was published in 2002, he chooses to end the coverage in the 1970s.

Campany describes Vietnam as "the last ‘photographer’s war’", but ascribes this more to changes in warfare rather than changes in photography and visual technology. Little photography was allowed during the Gulf Wars and the public expected the coverage that was allowed to be in video. Aftermath photography was all that was left for those working in stills.

The public's demands and expectations have moved on, leaving stills reporting photography to find another role, another approach to its subjects.

Campany rambles on for some time, establishing the depth of his knowledge of photographic history, but his point has already been made and made well.


Photography has lost its decisive documentary purpose, supplanted by multi-mode video as the mechanism with TV and later social media as the public's choice of channels. The crumbs left at the table for photojournalism are the residue and aftermath of events after the video-based circus has moved on. This, of course, applies almost exclusively to the news and reporting branches of photography — other genres are relatively unaffected by the technological changes, at least directly: practitioners may, however, choose to be influenced or drawn by this change of tack.

Other voices:
Bull [13, p.118-9 ] comments directly on the essay, summarising Campany's view of Meyerowitz's Ground Zero images as "too 'safe' and beautiful, rather than addressing the politics of their horrifying subject matter directly". He also notes critic Ian Walker's view that "ultimately a balance is required between aesthetically pleasing images of contemplation and images that evidence body horror".

Towery Crimean
Box D
View of Crimean Battle Scene,
2006 © Terry Towery,

Wrapping up this section, Paul Seawright's homage (of sorts) to Fenton's Valley of the Shadow of Death is mentioned. [I recently came across Terry Towery in Marta Weiss' Making it up[14, p.175]. He has invented a photographing forebear, Timothy Eugene O'Tower, and produced a series of imitations of Victorian photographs as evidence, including a tabletop reconstruction of Fenton's Valley (fig. D1). I have not written up the book or any of its photographers yet.]

Box E
A room at 14 Baldwin Farms South,
Greenwich, Conn.
, 2009
© Edgar Martins

And finally, an aftermath of a different sort, Edgar Martins' response to the US housing price slump, created for the NY Times [15]. Interestingly the course material [2, p.30] states that his images were shot with a 'large format camera', as were Joel Meyerowitz's. This could be another signal to treat it more seriously because a Big Camera was used. That no longer works with this writer, Tina Barney's Large Format Snaps having debased the currency.
And '[t]his work also became the subject of a heightened debate surrounding digital manipulation. (You’ll return to this later in Part One)' [2, p.30].

There is no specific exercise for this section.

Preamble - Project 1, Eyewitness - Exc. 1 - Project 2, Photojournalism - Project 3, Reportage - Exc. 2 - Project 4, The gallery wall – documentary as art - Exc. 3 - Project 5, The manipulated image - Exc. 4 - Exc. 5 - Upsum

C-B and surrealism - irony - Late photography - McMurdo - Meyerowitz - objectivity in citizen journalism - Pickering - Rosler - Sanguinetti - Seawright - street photography


Docphot has lost its role,  replaced by the moving image and 24H rolling news. Professional critics tend to disapprove of the genre.

Page created 08-Nov-2019 | Page updated 09-Feb-2022