Ruins of central Gronzy - James Natchwey 1996
Documentary photography is used by artists to communicate something of importance to make a comment that will be understood by the viewer. They entertained us by showing us places we never hoped to go. War photography, slum photography, cult photography, have been used to heighten a sense of social consciousness with an audience.
Similarly in painting, favourite subject matter for realist artists included genre scenes of rural and urban working class life, scenes of street life, as well as nudity and sexual subjects. Realists portrayed real people not idealised types, the focus was on showing specific facts of modern life, it asked the spectator to see without prejudice. Millet and Courbet challenged the viewing patterns of the Salon- going public because they themselves, as artists were attempting to look at the world through different eyes.
My choice of artists Dorothea Lange and James Natchway are renowned for their talent and exceptional technique in photography to capture the despair and suffering of their subjects. Despite having very different moods in their results, they still share certain characteristics of what it means to be a good photographer.
Both of them are able to create images that have a power to move emotions, touch hearts, tell stories and captivate those who see them. They become a part of the scene and the people they are photographing do not notice them, enabling a more natural and moving result.
Dorothy Lange had quite a disruptive, painful childhood and this would affect the way she portrayed people in her work. She lived in her own words, “a visual life”. Lange could look at something despairing and find the beauty in its image. I have chosen her photograph ‘White Angel Breadline’, as it is a reminder today what is happening around the world. Dorothea Lange makes us think about how millions of people will be feeling about social difficulties and rejection. The image is powerful as it focuses on one person’s solitary state of existence. The figure is clasping his hands around an empty cup. We feel that although the man stands with his back against the other men, he is representative of all the figures in the picture. Lange was taught that she had to know the feelings, including the pain of other people in order to like herself.
Natchway, a war photographer is intent on exposing the truth and giving us information which was filtered by the government. He quoted “I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated”
Natchway’s photography focuses on the harsh conditions of war and the emotions felt by those caught within them. In his photograph ‘Ruins of Central Grozny’, the composition is quite artistic, but the point is rather the expression of sadness on the boy’s face together with the destruction that is evident behind him.
Both photographers have used the lighting in the images to lure the viewer into the experience, for example in Lange’s work the focus is on the man’s hat. It is battered and worn with every detail shown. It conveys a feeling of hope.
Natchway has captured light which shows clearly the left corner of the destroyed buildings, this is a reminder of the mass destruction that war has on people and places.
In conclusion, the power, the beauty, the messages behind documentary photography has an important place in modern times. Eli Siegal quotes “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after ourselves.”