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SELECTIVE TRANSPARENCY


By Robin Lam In our current trend-


dominated society, jumping from one needy cause to the next seems to be the norm.


Documentary photography was once a tool that aided the endeavor for social change. It was thought that by revealing the invisible, unseen horrors overlooked by society, the public would be spurred to action and change. Now however, with the torrent of bad news that we are barraged with on television and online everyday, hardly anything seems to elicit action. The photographs that once carried so much compassion and conscience are now seen as commonplace, something that’s to be expected with bad news.


Instead, we have become voyeurs, fueled by the exoticism of human decay and drawn to the titillation that accompanies photography of anything unusual or scandalous. Outside museum and gallery installations, the power and impact of documentary photography have been reduced in the flood of consumerist images that we are exposed to on a daily basis. Some say that documentary photogra- phy should ‘be concerned’ about society and play an active role in social change, but with so little attention from the public, how is documentary photography supposed to fulfill these responsibilities?


The camera was used as a scientific tool in its origins, but gradually photographers began aiming their camera lenses onto their own so- cieties, documenting the dark underbellies of the city and the dank living conditions of the poor, the criminal, and the working classes. Rather than exhibitionist, photography was a telescope that peered into the cracks of society which had until then been largely ignored. Social documentary photographers like Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine brought mass attention to urban social plights, undoubtedly aiding in popular social reform of the time. Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” became an iconic symbol of the catastrophic effects of the Great Depression.


Snapixel Magazine I The New Documentar ian I 09


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