Master Photography. Documentary photography was born with the purpose of freezing and capturing reality in a still image. As its name suggests, this type of photography seeks to document a fact, to inform. For this reason, a series or a group of photographs has usually been created that help to understand the event that has been portrayed with the image.
We bring you 10 names of representative teachers within this type of photography.
1. Sebastiao Salgado
“For photography to make sense you have to have a commitment”
This photographer has always been closer to documentary photography than to photojournalism and his images are always in black and white. In his work, the images made of people in developing countries and in situations of poverty stand out. In 2001 he was nominated by UNICEF for all of his work and has been awarded numerous times for his work. The best-known photographs of him are those of the Serra Pelada gold mines in Brazil.
2. Graciela Iturbide
Known as “The lady of symbols.” Graciela Iturbide stands out for being a contemplative photographer, that is, a person who takes her time when creating a series of images of her, taking even 10 years to complete one.
For Iturbide, the essential thing in a photographer is the eye with which she looks, she is an expert in giving her images an incredible composition, accompanied by simplicity and an interpretation of the variable reality depending on who stops to look at the photograph. Her ability to relate to other human beings makes her snapshots show the dignity of the one who has been in front of her goal.
“I do not photograph poverty for poverty or death for death. I am interested in the customs of the people, their dignity, their history, and that of the people. “
“Jano”, “Angel Woman”, “Death Bride” or the series “Naturata”, “Frida’s bath”, “Birds” or “Seri“. Those who live in the sand ”are a few examples of the work of this fantastic photographer.
3. Boris Mikhailov
Ukrainian photographer who was in charge of photographing the Soviet regime in all its phases: in full swing, decline, and finally its fall. He has been awarded several times for his work, which includes several series: “Red Series”, “Luriki”, “Salt Lake”, “Viscidity”, “At Dusk”, or “Case History” among others. This photographer has a lot of personalities when it comes to photographing, including staging, colored photographs, or old images.
Facing his photographs is not easy, as they show a totally bleak panorama. The breakup of the Soviet Union left many people homeless, others falling into the hands of alcohol, or unable to find a future to move forward with. Mikhailov’s photographs capture all of this, giving us a tremendous dose of reality.
4. Bruce Davidson
Bruce Davidson is one of the most influential documentary photographers in the United States, being a member of Magnum Photos since 1958 and receiving awards for his work on various occasions.
His best-known work is the series of photographs he took in the New York subway, called “Subway.”
In this series of photographs, the use of color and the ability to show the speed of the subway itself stand out, capturing the darkness of the tunnels and the light and, in turn, describing the anonymous lives of the New Yorkers who came across the camera of this photographer.
A total of 118 images capture the day-to-day and the boring (or exciting) journey on the subway.
5. William Eggleston
5.9 million dollars cost one of the collections of this photographer, thus becoming the most expensive series ever sold. William Eggleston revolutionized color photography after his exhibition at MOMA in 1976.
Although he is not a purely documentary photographer, a documentary vein always underlies his photographs, even if not even the photographer himself figures it out. He deeply documented the American South in the 1970s.
For Eggleston, his photographs are simply about “Today’s life”, the footprint that we leave in our wake, the passing of the days, becoming a symbol. What you might think is vulgar is nothing more than a way of portraying life.
6 & 7. David Goldblatt & Ernest Cole
Both photographers are known for having captured the apartheid regime with their cameras.
David Goldblatt is a South African documentary photographer who photographed the apartheid regime. He is known for his ability to show a society where inequality prevailed from a non-political perspective. After 15 years of work, in 1980 he published his work “South Africa, the structure of things then”.
His photographs capture the social and moral values that were part of the segregationist history of his country. He used his camera to capture the true face of apartheid and give the conflict a voice, yet he did not seek to associate his photographs with any kind of political revolution.
In his snapshots, the comfort of white neighborhoods is compared with the situation of black communities, in short, a portrait of a culture where injustice was the protagonist.
His interest lies in showing the routine at a specific moment in history, and in trying to capture in images the normality that people find even despite living a terrible situation.
On the other hand, although Ernest Cole‘s work is very similar, it is more demanding. His documentary photography shows the violence and savage purity of that time.
Thanks to a deception that he carried out when declaring his tone of gradation of blackness (a measure taken by the apartheid authorities), he managed to move freely through the horror scenes of those times, but finally had several problems with the authorities Due to his work as a photographer, although finally, thanks to the help of some friends, he managed to escape from the continent.
In 1967 he got them to edit his photobook “House of bondage“, a chronicle that reflected the situation in his country with images.
8. Elliott Erwitt
Advertising and documentary photographer known for his absurd and ironic black and white photos. He is an expert in finding that touch of humor and having it well present in his snapshots. He was part of the Magnum Agency and for this reason, he did not put aside photojournalism or documentary photography, which always had its two main characteristics: its autobiographical character and the touch of humor present in all of his photographs.
The irony that he makes use of when taking photos does not ignore the social and political concern that he expresses in his work, such as this one that we show below, one of the most representative of this photographer:
9. Dorothea Lange
“The People’s Photographer”
She is an American documentary photographer and photojournalist. Known for her surprising images of the Great American Depression, Dorothea Lange became a reference for this type of photography.
Hers is a social story, concerned with capturing human anguish and American culture in her images. Her works from the 30s are the most representative. She portrayed the Great Depression with her camera, touring the streets and food banks, and also when she began to be part of the Agricultural Security Administration, with her images she denounced the situation in which all the families living in the countryside lived. From that time is the photograph of her “Migratory mother”, where she portrays a mother with her three children. She captured in her images Japanese Americans forced to leave their homes and live in internment camps.
This artist undoubtedly has an exciting career in capturing human dignity thanks to her critical eye.
10. Walker Evans
He is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and is undoubtedly the progenitor of documentary photography in America.
Like Lange, the Depression years were especially fruitful for Evans, and it was at this stage that he photographed a resettlement community of unemployed coal miners.
This documentary photographer was very curious about simple things (church architecture, the barber of a small town, cemeteries …) and through them, he revealed the respect he felt for the traditions of the common man, what ultimately makes us human.