A proper reading of a photograph sees and responds to them consciously. Photographers learn to interpret photographs in that technical way because they want to understand and use that language themselves (just as musicians learn a more technical musical language than the layman needs). Social scientists who want to work with visual materials will using have to learn to approach them in this more studious and time-consuming way. The following exercise, taught to me by Philip Perkis, is a way of seeing what is involved: take some genuinely good picture; the ones reproduced in this article will. Using a watch with a second hand, look at the photograph intently for two minutes. Dont stare and thus stop looking; look actively. It will be hard to do, and youll find it useful to take up the time by naming everything in the picture to yourself: this is a man, this is his arm, this is the finger on his hand, this is the shadow his hand.
Anyone who gets into a new field must pay some dues. Photographers who want to pursue strange the matter further will have to read some social science prose, and many will probably find that too steep a price; some will find a viable solution in a working partnership with a social scientist (as in the fruitful collaboration. The price to social scientists is less painful. They must acquaint themselves with the extensive photographic literature; I have reproduced some examples here and will provide a brief guide to more. In addition, they will have to learn to look at photographs more attentively than they ordinarily. Laymen learn to read photographs the way they do headlines, skipping over them quickly to get the gist of what is being said. Photographers, on the other hand, study them with the care and attention to detail one might give to a difficult scientific paper or a complicated poem. Every part of the photographic image carries some information that contributes to its total statement; the viewers responsibility is to see, in the most literal way, everything that is there and respond. To put it another way, the statement the image makes—not just what it shows you, but the mood, moral evaluation and causal connections it suggests—is built up from those details.
Ideally, it is directed to the growing number of people, whatever their professional background, who are concerned with producing photographic explorations of society. In addition, i have tried to show how even those sociologists who have no interest in photographic work can learn something from the light shed on conventional research methods by a comparison with photographic methods. Some generic problems of social exploration profit from the light the comparison generates. I will not be concerned with every aspect of the use of visual materials in social science in this paper. Specifically, i will not consider three major areas of work to which social scientists have devoted themselves: (1) the use of film to preserve nonverbal data for later analysis, as in the analyses of gesture and body movement by such scholars as Birdwhistell, ekman, hall. Wisconsin death Trip (1973). All three are interesting and important areas of work, but differ from the use of photographs to study organizations, institutions, and communities that I have in mind. There is considerable overlap, of course, and I do not insist on the distinction.
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Not surprisingly, then, the two modes of social exploration have ceased to essay have very much to do with one another. Sociologists today know little of the work of social documentary photographers and its relevance to what they. They seldom use photographs as a way of gathering, recording, or presenting data and conclusions. I want to acquaint them with this tradition and show them how they can make use of the styles of work and techniques common in photography. Many social scientists have already been active photographically, and what I say will not be news to them (Barndt 1974).3. Alexander Blumenstiel now edits a journal called. Many photographers have undertaken projects which produce results that parallel those of sociology, and make claims that in some ways parallel the claims to truth and representativeness of sociology.
Insofar as their work has this character, i intend to show them how a knowledge of some of the ideas and techniques of academic sociology can be of help to them. I do not want to make photographers of social scientists or impose a social science imperialism on photographers (not that there is any chance such attempts would be successful). Many sociologists will find the work and methods I describe hopelessly unscientific, although I hope that this discussion will cause them to reconsider their own methods. Many photographers will find my suggestions academically arrogant; satisfied with the way they now work, they will see no advantage in alien ideas and procedures. What I say is most directly addressed to those social scientists and photographers who are sufficiently dissatisfied with what they are doing to want to try something new, who find difficulties in their present procedures and are interested in seeing whether people in other fields.
To be sure, earlier photographers in this tradition understood that what they did had an artistic component. They worked hard to produce images that measured up as art. But the artistic element of photography was held at a substantial distance from photography carried on for more mundane purposes, including journalism. Such influential photographers as Edward Weston conceived of their work as something more like painting—they produced for galleries, museums, and private collectors as much as they could—and did very little that could be interpreted in any direct way as an exploration of society. Art and social exploration describe two ways of working, not two kinds of photographers.
Many photographers do both kinds of work in the course of their careers. And even this is an over-simplification since many photographs made by someone whose work is predominantly of one kind have strong overtones of the other. Paul Strand is clearly an art photographer; but his pictures of peasants around the world embody political ideas, and any number of socially concerned photographers do work that is personally expressive and aesthetically interesting quite apart from its subject matter—as, for instance, in Danny lyons. The destruction of Lower Manhattan (1969) and Larry Clarks, tulsa (1971). Photography has thus, like sociology, displayed a shifting variety of characteristic emphases, depending on the currents of interest in the worlds of art, commerce and journalism to which it has been attached. One continuing emphasis has been the exploration of society in ways more or less connected with somewhat similar explorations undertaken by academic sociologists. As sociology became more scientific and less openly political, photography became more personal, more artistic, and continued to be engaged politically.
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The impulse to photographic social exploration found another expression in the work produced by the photographers roy stryker assembled for the photographic unit of the farm Security Administration during the 1930s (Hurley 1972, 1973; Stryker and wood 1973). Dorothea lange, walker evans, russell lee, arthur Rothstein, and others dream made it their business to record the poverty and hard times of Depression America, their work very much informed by social science theories of various homework kinds. More recently, political involvement has had a hand in shaping the use of photography to explore society. Photographers participated actively in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and brought back photographs which effectively stirred people just as Hines photographs of child laborers had. They then used those skills in somewhat less immediately political kinds of essays—exploring communities, occupations, subcultures, institutions—that have a sociological intent. These essays combine a journalistic and ethnographic style with a self-conscious and deliberate artistic purpose. Photography from the beginning strove toward art just as it did toward social exploration.
Lewis Hine, for instance, was supported by the russell Sage foundation in connection with allama the early surveys of urban life (Gutman 1967). The, american journal of Sociology routinely ran photographs in connection with its muckraking reformist articles for at least the first fifteen years of its existence (Oberschall 1972:215). Another kind of social exploration grew out of the use of photographs to report the news and to record important social events. Mathew Brady (Horan 1955) and his staff, which included Timothy. Osullivan (Horan 1966) and Alexander Gardner, (1959) photographed the civil War, and Roger Fenton the Crimean War. But it was not until the 1920s that the development of the illustrated weekly in Europe produced a group of photographers who made the photo reportage or Photo-essay into an instrument of social analysis (Alfred Eisenstaedt and Erich Salomon are among the best-known graduates. Picture post in England and, time, life, and, fortune in the United States provided outlets for serious photojournalists who worked with the photoessay form: Margaret bourke-white, walker evans,. Eugene Smith, robert Capa.
the rich and famous, and of ordinary people as well. They have produced pictures for newspapers and magazines. They have produced works of art for galleries, collectors and museums. The constraints of the settings in which they did their work (Becker 1974) affected how they went about it, their habits of seeing, the pictures they made and, when they looked at society, what they saw, what they made of it and the way they. From its beginnings, photography has been used as a tool for the exploration of society, and photographers have taken that as one of their tasks. At first, some photographers used the camera to record far-off societies that their contemporaries would otherwise never see and, later, aspects of their own society their contemporaries had no wish to see. Sometimes they even conceived of what they were doing as sociology, especially around the turn of the century when sociologists and photographers agreed on the necessity of exposing the evils of society through words and pictures.
Think of a camera as a machine that add records and communicates much as a typewriter does. Work on this paper has been supported by the russell Sage foundation. A book-length version of the material is in preparation. I am grateful to marie czach, Blanche geer, walter Klink, alexander. Morin, and Clarice Stoll for their useful comments on an earlier version. I have found Newhall (1964) and lyons (1966) useful background references. People use typewriters to do a million different jobs: to write ad copy designed to sell goods, to write newspaper stories, short stories, instruction booklets, lyric poems, biographies and autobiographies, history, scientific papers, letters The neutral typewriter will do any of these things as well. Because of the persistent myth that the camera simply records whatever is in front of it (about which I will say more below people often fail to realize that the camera is equally at the disposal of a skilled practitioner and can do any. Photographers have done all of the things suggested above, often in explicit analogue with the verbal model.
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While sociology has had other ends, moral and metaphysical, sociologists have save always wanted to understand how society worked, to map its dimensions and then look into the big sectors and little crannies so mapped. They ordinarily wanted to find things out rigorously and scientifically, and to develop general theories. But some sociologists have made it their main business to describe what has not yet been described, in the style of the ethnographer, to tell the big news, in the style of the journalist, combining these (more or less) with the desire for rigor and. Sociologists choice of theories, methods, and topics of research usually reflect the interests and constraints of the intellectual and occupational communities to which they are allied and attached. They often choose research methods, for instance, that appear to have paid off for the natural sciences. They frequently choose research topics which are public concerns of the moment, especially as those are reflected in the allocation of research funds: poverty, drugs, immigration, campus or ghetto disorder, and. These faddish tendencies are balanced by a continuing attention to, and respect for, traditional topics and styles of work. The efforts and projects of photographers have been much more various. In order to understand how photographers go about exploring society when they undertake that job, it will be useful to remember the mélange of other jobs photography does.