Category Archives: Three critical Viewpoints

P2: Photojournalism: Three Critical Viewpoints

We are asked to:

try and make time to find out more about at least one of these critical positions during your work on Part One.

  • Do you think Martha Rosler is unfair on socially driven photographers like Lewis Hine? Is there a sense in which work like this is exploitative or patronising? Does this matter if someone benefits in the long run? Can photography change situations?

Yes I do think Rosler is unfair to some social Documentary photographers. Like all professions photography has had its charlatans. People who ‘pose’ as concerned photographers but who are only interested in exploiting the photograph for their own ends. In this I agree with Rosler who regarded the people photographed for these social documentary  images as ‘victims’. However I do think that among these early documentalists there were genuine concerned photographers. In her notes at the end of the essay In, around and afterthoughts (on documentary photography), Rosler seems to single Hine out as one such photographer (notwithstanding the questionable grammar and length of the sentence reprinted below….)

[HIne] “whose straightforward involvement with the struggles for decent working hours, pay and protections, as well as for decent housing, schooling and social dignity, for the people for whom he photographed and the social service agencies intending to represent them, and whose dedication to photography as the medium with which he could best serve those interests, was completely greater than Riis’s, to whom photography, and probably those whom he photographed, were at best an adjustment to, and moment in, a journalist career”.

Hine spent his whole life photographing the under privileged, mostly for the agencies for which he worked. But he truly believed that he could make a difference. As a professor of photography he encouraged his students to use the medium to make a difference. During the war he worked with the Red Cross. By not annotating his images he believed they should speak for themselves.

As a development worker in Africa I was very often faced with the dilemma of whether to photograph some situation or incident. My question to myself was always “How would this help to change anything?”. In most cases the answer was “it wouldn’t change anything”. However I have to accept that this was as much because I was an unknown as that photography per say does not change anything.


  • Do you think images of war are necessary to provoke change? Do you agree with Sontag’s earlier view that horrific images of war numb viewers’ responses? Read your answer again when you’ve read the next section on aftermath photography and note whether your view has changed. See also:
    when-photographs-of-atrocities-dont-shock/#1 [accessed 24/02/14]

This article, written by Fred Ritchin in Time Magazine Lightbox(2), would indicate that we are suffering from an image overload which is reducing the ability of individual shocking images to shock. This would support Sontag’s earlier view that horrific images numb the viewer’s responses. I would add to this that the viewing public have become a little jaundiced with the official imagery emerging from war zones. When photographers are ’embedded’  with one side or the other they loose their sense of objectivity. They can only see the war from one side. Their images are also, I believe, heavily censored. So the resultant images that we see have no great meaning and hence could not provoke any change. This is discussed in detail in David Campell’s article (3)

Sontag did however change her view in her work Regarding the Pain of Others. Sontags’s changing view is also discussed in Cambell’s article.

Some more evidence that photographs of war or crime victims do provoke change as discussed in this interview.(4)

Mamie Till Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till who did insist in 1954 that her son’s mangled body be displayed in its coffin and photographed with all of the physical evidence of lynching for it should be visible.

.And in the case of Emmett Till, that image did have an enormous impact then there’s a lot of, you know, testimony from the early years of the civil rights movement about the power of that image to shock. (

There are also concerned journalists like Susan Moeller(5) who wrote that we need to be witnesses to what is happening in the world

When the best available evidence for a major news event is visual, and when that visual evidence is not itself an agent of fear-mongering (such as videos made by terrorist groups) journalists have the responsibility to publish that visual evidence and we the adult audience have the responsibility of looking at it — forewarned of the horrors to be seen perhaps, but not coddled into a comfortable obliviousness.

A whole movement of independent minded photographers and cinematographers continue to work in war torn areas and get their material out to sites like VICE News. (6) But I would hazard a guess that their readership/viewership is limited and consists of the ‘converted’.

Having read the next section I have not changed my opinion. The work of late’ photographers is a whole other genre.

  • Do you need to be an insider in order to produce a successful documentary project?

The answer to this question seems to me to depend on the project.  In the words of Aigail Solomon Godeau it its only relevant to certain practices. (7)

Larry Clarke and Nan Goldin needed to be ‘insiders’ to enter the world they depict. It would be difficult for you or me to get into this world to make such images  Having entered their worlds these photographers proceed to make images. Although they are ‘in’ the world they are recording, they are outside the action they are photographing. They are inside and outside at the same time. I would think this is very often the situation in which a photographer finds himself/herself. I would agree with Solomon Godeau on Rosler’s Bowery images. Juxtaposing words with the doorways where we would ‘expect’ to find homeless people, does not have the same impact as the images where these people are present. I don’t think Rosler’s images say anything worthwhile. She is neither an insider nor an outsider.

Solomon Godeau considers Chantal Akerman’s film D’Est a classic example of an ‘outsider’ project. I am not sure I would agree with that assessment. Akerman was, after all, a Polish Jewess, an insider of the world about which she is making a film. Akerman admits in a interview

that for her film Delphine she used her personal experiences of the very female world in which she had been reared. Perhaps her style of film making can be described as looking at or into something rather than being part of it. Alas as I was writing this I discovered that Chantal Akerman committed suicide last Monday night 5th October 2015.

The very recent film Mediteranea would fall into the same genre, in my

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 06.47.59opinion. The producer/director Capignano, a black American-Italian was ‘trusted’ by the immigrants probably because of his colour and was able to travel with these Burkinabe economic migrants in their quest to gain entry to Europe through Italy. The film is ‘true’ in  that he filmed, using a shoulder camera, the immigrants as they traveled. But we have no idea what he ‘chose’ to include or exclude  in the final cut. The immigrant world is not his world – he is not an insider but an observer and recorder of what happened on that one journey.

There is no such ambiguity in the written work of Chinua Achebe or Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. As Nigerians they were writing about their own country and very often their own experiences. They were, in my opinion, true insiders writing about their own experiences.

The question of whether an image represents truth and reality is a whole other question.We must question the purpose of the photographers in making these images. If no one wanted to look at them would they still be worth making?

I have not discussed the inside/outside effect of embedding photographers with their armies. These are truly ‘outsiders’ as they are with one side of the ‘war’ and probably know little of the the opponents. Maybe we could invent a word for these photographers as “onesiders”…

  1. . 2015. . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 October 2015].
  2. Syrian Torture Archive: When Photographs of Atrocities Don’t Shock. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 October 2015].
    ISBN Search
  3.  Cambell, D, 2003. Representing Contemporary War. Ethics & International Affairs,, Volume 17.2,
  4. mages Of The Dead And The Change They Provoke : NPR. 2015. Images Of The Dead And The Change They Provoke : NPR. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 October 2015].
  5. Compassion Fatigue About Syria… Already? | Susan Moeller. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 October 2015].
  6. VICE News. 2015. VICE News. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 October 2015].
  7.  Chapter 6: Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s “Inside/Out” | Advanced Photography Journal. 2015. Chapter 6: Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s “Inside/Out” | Advanced Photography Journal. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 October 2015].