Fast film, aeroplanes and photo magazines.
Things take a giant step forward in the 20th Century as we were gifted compact rangefinders and a license to travel. The modern documentary photographer is fully mobile and able to respond quickly to the demands of photo agencies and picture editors.
The world begins to open up even more with the introduction of commercial flights in the 1950's. Artists with cameras with a new sense of direction and purpose emerge to travel the globe and return with incredible documentary photographs. Some of the best images in the history of photography are made during this era. Soon the jet setting modern photojournalist would be born but first let us look at the pioneering early 1900's.
We will begin with a trip to France, notably Paris where we meet Eugene Atget. It’s the early years of the 20th Century and using a large format camera Eugene is making fine compositions and is drawn to the subterranean side of life and records with artistry and skill, the light and texture of his scenes.
Raising the images to a new level and experience for the viewer – and possibly photography itself – and at the same time he displays his empathy, again adding to the work that extra sensory purpose. It becomes an inspired experience. Atget begins to write a new language for photography, one that reappears again in certain images but slightly rewritten and expanded upon by Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand and Kalvar, later in the same Century.
The period between 1900 and 1930 is difficult to trace in pure documentary terms, as cameras appeared to have been pointed at subjects other than those that required societal change although, the recording of large buildings and the Royal Family for example, still add to the humanistic record. It seems that one female photographer, Christina Broom had her senses on the correct axis with her work on the leaders of the Suffragette Movement around 1908/1913. Working in London, Broom made chronicle type images that work together to tell the whole story of what she had seen, on purpose, so this marks a turning point in many ways. Her work marked a definite step into pure photojournalism and long form documentary photography. Read more about Christina Broom here. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/valerie-williams-london-narratives-in-photography-1900-35-r1104366
Moving towards the 1940’s here in the UK, Bert Hardy was busy too, making fantastic images for Picture Post https://www.gale.com/intl/c/picture-post-historical-archive and other newspapers. Follow this link for a selection of his images. https://gettyimagesgallery.com/collection/bert-hardy/ His photos have a feel-good factor and images such as Audrey Hepburn for example are truly exemplary.
George Roger was another of the great image makers and photojournalists of the 20th Century and photographed WW2, making startling images that deserve considerably more exposure today than they receive. This humble Scots born artist ventured to Africa to begin his extensive career as a photojournalist, see this link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Rodger and went on to produce some of the most haunting images of the period. He had exceptional vision as a photographer and was able to make quite beautiful photographs and was a founding member of Magnum.
Nick Hedges became active in the swinging 60's, not in London but Birmingham, where his seminal project, From the Centre was carefully crafted. http://www.nickhedgesphotography.co.uk/
To be continued...
A rich and varied history indeed, and it's not over yet as we venture forward one catastrophe at a time in the 21st Century.
For further research follow this link https://www.cartedevisite.co.uk/ to be greeted with a vast selection of photographs most of which have very strong compositional value. Also look at this small online exhibition showing images from the modern era http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/contemporary-documentary-photographers/ that make good use of colour and portraiture.