Documentation and Photography
©Werner Hammerstingl, 1999, 2011
We will look at the following areas of documentary Photography:
esp. work in the mid 19C by Rodger Fenton in the Crimeea and Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner who documented the American Civil War
An early example of documentary photography is the record of war, which brought home to people some grim realities which shattered their fantasies. Photographers of note include James Robertson, who covered the siege of Sebastopol, and Roger Fenton, who covered the Crimean war, though the latter is more adequately described as a public relations exercise for the government of the day.
One of the great names is that of Mathew Brady who, with a large team of photographers, covered the American Civil War. One member of his team was Timothy O'Sullivan ,whose picture "Harvest of Death", taken at Gettysburg on 4th July 1863 ranks amongst the most famous of early historical photographs.
To some extent it is difficult to avoid seeing pictures showing the ravages of war; indeed to some extent we have become almost immune to it. To many people of the time, however, war would be something that was conducted in far-off lands, and therefore would conjure up pictures of heroism and romanticism. Writing in the Atlanta Monthly magazine, Oliver Wendell Holmes showed how photography injected a feeling of grim reality into the situation, as he surveyed pictures taken by Brady's team:
"Let him who wishes to know what war is look at this series of illustrations. These wrecks of manhood thrown together in careless heaps or ranged in ghastly rows for burial were alive but yesterday...
Many people would not look through this series. Many, having seen it and dreamed of its horrors, would lock it up..that it might not thrill or revolt those whose souls sickens at such sights. It was so nearly like visiting the battlefield...that all the emotions excited by the actual sight..came back to us. (It) gives us....some conception of what a repulsive, brutal, sickening, hidous thing it is, this dashing together of two frantic mobs to which we give the name of armies..."
There were, in addition, many "war" photographs whose takers never went near any war. These include Nadar in France, Cundall and Howlett, whose "Crimean Braves" photographs were finished before the troops even set sail!
An unusual application of photography in war was the use of carrier pigeons during the siege of Paris, when minute photographed messages were attached to their tails.
Many war photographs are held in the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London.
The photographic documentation of landscape
Landscape was amongst the earliest aspects to be recorded and documented by the camera. From these images some of which go back to the 1840's we can learn how much/little has changed in the landscape.
Social documentation and photography
We will look at Jacob Riis and Lewis Heine who are among the first "concerned photographers" who document social situations with their camera with a view towards causing or affecting some change.
Architectural photography was a popular form of photographic documentation right from the early days of the medium (the first ever photograph was of architectural elements) for two reasons:
first, Architecture was a very exciting and growing area of practice among the new wealth brought about due to the Industrial recvolution and Colonization.
second, buildings stood still which meant that long exposures , technically necessary produced fine results
The private photoarchive
Baby photos Kid's photographed formally and informally at play etc. School Photos. naturally this area also includes the Wedding photo's , all the family documentation which features unique and unusual domestic events, family outings and hollidays special occasions and frequently posessions.
See Matthew Nixon and Ewan Mc Gillivray: Mum and Dad made History, published by the Museum of Victoria
Please note that I have more extensive reading around this topic posted on my website at "Social Politics in Australian Photography" which is linked to the "writings" section of olinda.com