A social problem is one that has a significant impact on the lives of many people. It can often be a conflicting opinion based on what is deemed a moral right. While we live our normal lives, social problems are constantly in the news. Photographic documentation is key to addressing these social issues. I am focusing on homelessness today. I will explore how social documentary photography can impact viewers and raise awareness about this terrible issue. Before getting into this topic, I will be looking at the origins of social documentary and the evolution of it throughout history. It’s a type of documentary photography that aims to bring attention to current social issues, sometimes within a particular time frame. It can also be referred to as a socially critical type of photography that focuses on the lives of those who are less fortunate or disadvantaged. (2) Social documentary photography is a way to raise awareness. How has social documentary photography affected society?
Social documentary photography began in the 20th Century. However, the practice of photographing people in their everyday lives started in the 19th Century. FSA employed writers and photographers to document and report on the lives of the poor and disadvantaged farmers. These photographers documented the harrowing situation of the farmers, whose survival was threatened by the American Depression stage. FSA “seeks to restore faith and hope in American society” (10) Americans were subject to disasters like dust bowls that were out of their hands during the Great Depression. (10) This created a new way of photographing social problems. Since then, social documentary photography has been used throughout history to document poverty and the sufferings of certain races. These social problems are now being addressed and we now focus on the present. The UK is not the only country where poverty is a major problem. Poverty may include both homelessness and not being in a position to buy water or food. Low income, high daily costs, discrimination, poor relationships, and low education can all lead to poverty. Social documentary photographers create awareness by documenting daily life of the less fortunate or creating horrifying images that shock viewers. Lee Jefferies, a photographer, is doing just that. First, he meets the homeless by sleeping in their homes and then shares his desire to spread awareness through photography. Although the images are shocking and disturbing, they have served their purpose. All images are sold and some proceeds go to the homeless who consented to their photos being taken, as well as the other homeless charities (7.8,9).
Social documentary photography is about raising awareness.
This documentation all began in 19th century. FSA (Farm Security Administration), hired photographers in the 20th century to document the difficult and dangerous work of poor farmers. During the Great Depression in America. The new style of documentary photography was born by the need to document social problems. Arthur Rothstein, Social Documentary Photographer. This is a 1936 photo of Arthur Rothstein and his two sons. “All days were almost the same back then. Three-year-olds are able to go outside, play with sand and dust, and they don’t know the difference. One night, a dark duster arrived from the North. We had kerosene lamps. The darkness got so bad that the kerosene lamp couldn’t be seen. –Darrel Coble. (The boy on the right, recalling the Dust Bowl days when he was an adult) “” – (6)
FSA photos created sympathy for farmers through widespread distribution in magazines and newspapers at the time. These photographs, which were intended to be a demonstration of how vital government assistance programs are in the survival efforts of those hardest hit by the depression and the dustbowl disasters, also prove that they work. (6) The Great Depression and dust bowl drought combined caused massive damage to the country’s finances, physical and emotional well-being, as well as its reputation for being a disaster. The Great Depression began with a severe economic recession in 1929 that lasted over a decade. Stock market volatility, especially from investors who borrowed money for stock purchases, led to an unreasonably high level of speculation. Investor panic set in when stocks started to lose value. The country was plunged into years of unemployment and bank closings due to the massive sell-off. The Great Depression was almost exactly the same time that the Great Dust Bowl disaster started. Extreme weather patterns brought droughts to the southern Plains. This affected Texas, Oklahoma, western Kansas as well easterly Colorado and New Mexico. Hard-rooted soils had already been damaged by drying out, and some land was over-farmed. Fearsome dust storms were created by the combination of fierce winds and drought.
My perceptions/views… This is my view of America’s Great Depression. I also see the horrific everyday life of American farmers during that period. The American dream was not possible during this time. Their house is a shed-like structure that seams broken and worn. It tells me about the extreme poverty of this time. This has made me feel grateful for my home and the conditions in which it is located. The image shows how the society was affected at that time. There should have been a lot of change and a desire to see it again. This image shows how lonely people were during those times. This is why there were many children during that time.
Dorothea Lange took the photograph “Migrant Mother” in 1936. It was during the Great Depression. The mother’s sad, unhopeful appearance makes it clear that the viewer is wondering what she is concerned about. Are her concerns about her family? Is she worried about how she will feed her family? Will her children be okay for one day more?
The year saw social documentary photography continue to document events, problems, and issues. These included fighting, protesting, poverty and wars. John Florea, a war photographer, captured in photo form the truth and beauty of concentration camps. John Florea (1896 – 2000) (1) was an American photographer. His photography included everything from comedic images, such as “Columnist Sidney,” and “Columnist Bob Hope,” Hollywood, 1943, to photos of concentration camp conditions. These horrific images are a source of social awareness and should be shared with newspapers and media. John Florea – The bodies of 3000 Nazi slave laborers, Nrdhausen Germany 1945.
This image, in my opinion, shows the real horror of Nazi’s treatment of slaves of war. They are then gassed and shot once they have become unusable as slaves. They died from starvation, diseases or lack of food. They are portrayed as criminals by the way they are arranged in rows. In addition to this, their beliefs are wrong, and they should be punished. The row also created that, even though they are all different, Jews are treated the same because they believe the same thing and therefore placed on the same level. In Hitler’s eyes, the Nazis treat them like they did more good than they did by getting rid wealthy people. Everybody who challenges Hitler’s beliefs is considered a threat. This place also looks like a rubbish dump to the Nazis’. They pile them up (the Jews), ready for mass burial or burning, just as we do with trash that cannot be reused. The soldiers walk away from the site as though it is the end of their workday, their normal daily lives.
The image is viewed from one point. There are endless rows of bodies at the bottom of the image, leading to a dark silhouette. This gives the image an unsettling look that suggests the bodies have been taken into their final days and are ready to be burned to the ground. The image’s overall effect is to disturb me by the idea that death can be caused by one person’s thoughts. This makes me feel insignificant as a viewer. I cannot bring back the Jews of the past. If I had been there in 1945 and seen this image, I would have been horrified. I would do everything I could to end this madness.
“Sometimes they got that picture nobody wanted,” LIFE’s editors wrote Nov. 5, 1945. – (2)
“Some people, such as Robert Capa, knew about war before that. Not John Florea,” Feyeux says. It is evident in the photos. He was shocked.” – (2)
“Have your ever really been hit in your gut and lost your breath, and fallen to your knees?” Florea shared his experience as a war correspondent with John Loengard in 1993. “I felt so badly hit by someone–I actually cried.”
These statements indicate that the images taken by these (socially-documentary photographers) had a significant impact on the war effort. They were both shocking and disturbing. The images are so distressing and shocking that almost everyone who sees them can only grieve or protest the war. This is the horrible reality of social documentary photos. While you may not be able to change the world, it is possible to look and make an impact. These victims were actually victims from the US terror attack at Nordhausen on the 4th April 1945. Despite the end of World War II, German cities were still being bombed.
The bombing of Nordhausen, which almost completely destroyed the entire city, was called Consequence. Two days prior to the evacuation of Bergen-Belsen camp, the city of Nordhausen was bombed. The tragic, un-needed deaths resulted from the destruction of Boelke barsracks where the inmates were staying. The US soldiers have buried almost 3,000 dead slave laborers. – (2)
John Florea – A prisoner in Nordhausen concentration camp’s barracks, Germany, 1945. John Florea took this image that shows the conditions prisoner of wars lived in. The shadow draped across his eyes gives him a desperate look, which is evident as he stares at the camera. The shadow also highlights the bones in his face. He is probably underweight and starved. His posture suggests he is weak. He lifts his arm to get up and sits down. The image shows light streaming in but it’s as if there’s no exit.
Many photographers have tried social documentary photography over the years. They mostly document poverty and protests. Lee Jefferies is a social documentary photographer who photographs intimate photos of the homeless in order to bring attention to those people often ignored.
Lee Jefferies works as an accountant and amateur sports photographer. He photographs intimate portraits of homeless people with terrible detail. Jefferies began the process in London. He took photographs of people as they went. He saw a young woman in need of help in the street, who was ignored by the large crowds. Jefferies took pictures, but he was too far away. Jefferies (1) noticed that he was making a lot of fuss. Jefferies sat down with the girl and got to know her story. The project began to capture intimate shots and raise awareness about the homeless. He continues to help his “subjects” after the photos become successful and pays them for their photos. Jefferies is not always able to take photos of homeless people. He has been threatened with a gun and demanded money from them. This project is entirely self-funded. Jefferies selects the “subjects” he wants to photograph. – (1). Jefferies photographs everything first naturally using natural lighting and black-and-white captures. To create emotion and impact in his photographs, Jefferies edits them to get a grainy look. It makes his photos look “artistic”, he claims – (1)
This image is so beautiful that it makes me feel like I can’t help but to cry for her. Her eyes are my first reaction. They water and tell her story. We don’t have the information to tell her story, but we can suggest some possible scenarios. These could range from her abandonment to her parents living in poverty with her, or even her fleeing from home. She is weak and tired because of the way she looks up. She may have slept too little due to the street conditions. Her face appears slightly sloppy, almost like she is trying hard to suppress all her emotions. Her clothes are also dirty, suggesting that she has nothing. The clothes look like a uniform for school. Will she go to school and receive the education that she deserves? As a viewer, I notice that her hair falls in clumps and she isn’t able to wash it. The grease makes your hair matt and clump together. The child’s desperate expression in the imager Lee Jefferies captures is heartbreaking. This will help to spread awareness about the many people who have been forgotten. Jefferies makes his images grainy and focuses on the face of the homeless, making it more impactful. This allows viewers to better understand the heartbreaking reality of the story.
This is another Lee Jefferies picture. I am here to show that the homeless can be any age and gender. Lee Jefferies has encountered many people over his years of working with the homeless, each with their own stories. His face is covered in wrinkles and he looks very tired. He has a sloppy face. But this isn’t sadness. It is anger and aggression. This could mean that he has turned to drugs or alcohol to escape the sorrow and sadness. On closer inspection, I can see someone who might have taken some risks. This could also indicate that he was successful in life prior to becoming homeless. Jefferies aims to create impact with his photo by making one eye open. His hair is matted and grown out, which indicates that he may have been homeless for some time. Jefferies is able to use his photos together to have a bigger impact on those who see them. His photos show Jefferies meeting a variety of people, including homeless people of all ages. Jefferies’ photography has helped to create awareness for intimate up-close photography, which is part of the social documentary genre.
Social documentary photography is a way to show the truth behind the events of the past and present. From the American Depression through to the Dust bowls and onto the World Wars, there has been a lot of social documentary photography that documents poverty. My social documentary photography proved to have an impact on history. It allowed viewers to feel sadness and to grieve, even though not much was done for the farmers. Also, there was no way to turn back the clock to save those who were killed in war bombings. The technology changes have allowed us to be more connected and to share more information. It allows us all to express our opinions, which allows for greater implementation of the aid. My project was to create scary people types that would shock viewers and make them distrust others. I wanted the stigma of a killer to be dispelled. I was also inspired by my research into real-life murders and the fact that they are often not suspected. After having read the artist’s statement, I wanted to know what people thought about my project. The overwhelming image makes them feel afraid, so they became more aware. It is important to be aware of what you are seeing. Social documentary photography has made us all more aware, and it is creating impact.