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Social Documentary Photography

Updated on October 7, 2013
CC BY-SA 3.0
CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

Those involved with Social Documentary Photography often face perils while performing their work. They are most likely to be found photographing at inaccessible places, inhospitable locations, and in dangerous situations.

It is not uncommon to find these photographers in situations which involve drug use, epidemic breakouts, and forced labor camps, refugee camps, war torn countries, covering the plight of ethnic groups and famine centers often without the knowledge or authorization of the authorities in charge.

The principal users of this type of photography are publications such a National Geographic, Governmental agencies, art galleries, cultural organizations, colleges and universities, and a host of non-profit entities.

Most of these images are captured on black & white or digitally converted to black & white format because of the characteristics of this format in stressing form and texture as well as the inherit nostalgic effect that monochrome suggests.

public domain
public domain | Source
CC BY-ND 2.0)
CC BY-ND 2.0) | Source

Social Documentary photography is a photographic genre that is dedicated to the portrayal of social classes and the social issues which they as a social group face. They control groups are mostly composed of the underprivileged and alike groups. The aim of photographers is to portray the unjust, homelessness, discrimination, poverty, the elderly, the helpless and child labor victims as well as many other factors. These photographers often try to capture conditions which can be hazardous to those involved in it.

Examples like coal mining, oil drilling, and social issues such as prostitution, the incarcerated and others are prime subjects.This genre is sometimes categorized as a socially critical photographic style.

Social documentary photography started as a movement in the 1900's during the plight of the American farmers and further fueled by the Great Depression,WWI and WWII, but suffered a major decline in popularity after the end of WWII.

This style has also been the target of politicians who saw this work as an inclination towards socialism. Many social documentary photographers were ostracized and marginalized because of this, especially during the rise of communism in the early 60's and 70's.

However in recent times this style has been gaining acceptance in the art world and in art galleries. This genre is closely associated with the work of social agencies and non-profit organizations and resembles the style and technique of Photovoice photography.

Sometimes this style mimics the Social Realism Arts Movement in that it portraits the lower class as performing heroic functions thus this style is used in the teachings and propaganda of some communists nations.

Another term or photo technique associated with Social Documentary Photography due to safety concerns is Geotagging. This is a technique or more of a process actually, not a photographic term or style per say. It involves incorporating G.P.S coordinates derived from global positioning systems into images taken with any digital device. This is used in most emails, digital photography, photo sharing sites, and the Internet.

In recent years most cell phones that are sold in the United States carry with it tracking technology. So every photo that you capture with a cell phone can potentially include the exact location of where the image was taken and when you transmit this image via the cell phone, everyone who receives it can also have this information. Paparazzi have become masters in searching and locating celebrities with this technique much to the astonishment of their "victims".

This application has its uses such as the ability of emergency agencies to locate you in the event of an emergency. It also allows anyone interested in further researching a photo location to find specific location details such as longitude and latitude. This is commonly used by many news agencies when news events develop or where imminent news worthy situations can develop.

Closely following the work of social documentary photographers is Social Photography. This category is involved in documenting photography work in general, and whose focus is on the technology, interactions, activities of those involved in photography, like a social network for photographers. This interaction is documented on many social sites as well as photographic organization's web sites whose mission is to keep the photographic community in touch and to document the activities of its members. A popular way to demonstrate this technique is Google's Photo Alerts; this technology supplies anyone who registers and requests this service with relevant up to date information regarding any events, issues, and anything in which photography is involved.

© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • kwongphotography profile image


      6 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      Hi Luis, well said post there. What I love about photography is how it can be interpreted and said in many ways for good causes. Keep it up Luis!

      - Kevin Wong


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