Exercise: Article by Elizabeth McCausland 1939


Read the 1939 article on documentary photography by Elizabeth McCausland. Write a short bullet list of the main points. Explain, in your own words, why this article is relevant to this part of the course.

Rapid growth of documentary – strong creative impulses seeking an outlet.
Not a fad.
Application of photography to chronicle the external world.
Whole and unretouched.
New eyes looking at external world. Honesty.
Symbolism – what is seen from an image of hands. Photographer finds truth and gives it significant form.
Not many opportunities for publishing honest photos of present-day life.
Farm Security Administration photographers and Federal Art Project series – government are the best sponsor of knowledge.
Painting has survived despite the rise of photography.
Turn of the century – is photography art?
More to realism than art.
The arts alter mode of expression etc as society changes.
We want the truth.
Work of art must have meaning and content and must speak to the audience.
No limit to what the photographer may record. Can say what we want.
Needs to have a clear purpose and not let personality influence.

This is relevant to the current part of the course where we have been looking at the history of documentary and what it actually is. There is also the start of the art and photography debate, which still exists today. The purpose of documentary and portraying reality is something that we have been looking at, and certainly something I believe in. We need to show the truth of situations. It goes with the previous chapter’s ideas about objectivity. This was written early on but I still feel that it is totally relevant today, that although photography has moved on in some ways, the basics are still there regarding composition and what we do with the images, especially where documentary photography is concerned. It generally provides a summary of what we have done so far and what is to come.