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History of Photography

John Simkin

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Who is your favourite photographer? I am a fan of Julia Margaret Cameron, Lewis Hine, Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.

What makes a great photograph? Ian Jeffrey has just published a new book "How to Read a Photograph". Jeffrey decodes key images and provides essential biographical and historical background to the images and their creators. Profiles of more than 100 major photographers highlight styles and movements throughout the history of photography. Each entry includes a biography along with an illuminating discussion of key works and ample contextual information.

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Who is your favourite photographer?

Uğur Doyduk

A Serenade for a Beautiful and Lonely Country


A wider collection of his photographs is here


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The hsitory of Photography and 'favourite photographer' is an interesting topic (IMO).

Photography of course has gone through a number of stages in development. Take the early daguerreotypes for example. These photos (on glass) have an amazing quality in themselves irrespective of photographer. The clarity and sense of depth is unmatched by any other types. One could be a photographer with a rudimentary sense of composition and take photos that by their nature are exemplary. After the Civil War in the US of A, tons of war photos taken by the south were scrapped, recycled to make glass or even used in glasshouses, where time has aged most but samples still exist as ghostly images of the past with no reference to the photographer.

It's a bit like art: ''I like it so it must be good''. Often its a technical exercise where the subject is really what makes a 'good' photograph, and hence a good photographer, a bit like craft versus art.

Art itself is defined in many ways. To some a pile of bricks might be art. In Florence there is a documented syndrome where on a regular basis a tourist enters a church where the ceiling paintings are done by Renaissance Masters and the tourist on seeing the magnificence blacks out.

Art that conveys a scene that is produced by more than tracing through camera obscura or lens arrangements, which many great colorists use very cleverly is arguably not art.

Photgraphers today willy nilly take thousands of photos and then scrutinises them for anything that might accidentally be 'good'. Is this a sign of a great photographer? How much is it the subject rather than the photographer that makes it good.

Often it's technical expertise and luck that maketh the photographer.

In Alberto Diaz (Korda) one finds a person who spent his early career learning and then he became a chronicler of the Cuban revolution. He found positions to be in and framed compositions that clearly raises him above the rest. Probably the most reproduced, popular, famous, photograph of the 20'th century is his photo of Che' that still today can be bought in many forms (posters, clothing, badges etc) throughout the world.

He combined technical expertise, and particularly vision, being in the right place at the right time, and a liking for BW photography which is stark compared to the more 'spectacular color' photos, hence less 'deceptive', that IMO makes him a real photographer artist matched by few, if any.

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Lewis Wickes Hine established what became known as documentary photography. Hine used his camera to capture the poverty he witnessed in New York. This included a photographic study of Ellis Island immigrants. In 1908 Hine published Charities and the Commons, a collection of photographs of tenements and sweatshops. Hine hoped he could use these photographs to help bring about social reform. He told one meeting that he believed his photographs would encourage people to "exert the force to right wrongs".

As a school teacher, Hine was especially critical of the country's child labour laws. Although some states had enacted legislation designed to protect young workers, there were no national laws dealing with this problem. In 1908 the National Child Labour Committee employed Hine as their staff investigator and photographer. This resulted in two books on the subject, Child Labour in the Carolinas (1909) and Day Laborers Before Their Time (1909).

Hine travelled the country taking pictures of children working in factories. In one 12 month period he covered over 12,000 miles. Unlike the photographers who worked for Thomas Barnardo, Hine made no attempt to exaggerate the poverty of these young people. Hine's critics claimed that his pictures were not "shocking enough". However, Hine argued that people were more likely to join the campaign against child labour if they felt the photographs accurately captured the reality of the situation.

Factory owners often refused Hine permission to take photographs and accused him of muckraking. To gain access Hine sometimes hid his camera and posed as a fire inspector. Hine worked for the National Child Labour Committee for eight years. Hine told one audience: "Perhaps you are weary of child labour pictures. Well, so are the rest of us, but we propose to make you and the whole country so sick and tired of the whole business that when the time for action comes, child labour pictures will be records of the past."

In 1916 Congress eventually agreed to pass legislation to protect children. As a result of the Keating-Owen Act, restrictions were placed on the employment of children aged under 14 in factories and shops. Owen Lovejoy, Chairman of the National Child Labour Committee, wrote that: "the work Hine did for this reform was more responsible than all other efforts in bringing the need to public attention."

After his successful campaign against child labour, Hine began working for the Red Cross during the First World War. This involved him visiting Europe where he photographed the living conditions of French and Belgian civilians suffering from the impact of the war.

In the 1920s Hine joined the campaign to establish better safety laws for workers. Hine later wrote: "I wanted to do something positive. So I said to myself, 'Why not do the worker at work? The man on the job? At the time, he was as underprivileged as the kids in the mill."

Hine had great difficulty earning enough money from his photography. In January 1940, he lost his home after failing to keep up repayments to the Home Owners Loan Corporation. Lewis Wickes Hine died in extreme poverty eleven months later on 3rd November, 1940.


The photograph below shows Leo aged 8 working in a textile factory in Tennessee in 1910.


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Yes, John, what an interesting category.

Thanks for the background on Hine.

I have two photographers to add to the list - Diane Arbus and Art Kane,

both of whom I have done stories on.

Diane Arbus:


Art Kane:


The Photo:


I later learned that Art Kane was part of the "Ghost Army" of WWII.



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