Dean O'Brien's Blog

350mc Working with Photography in Context: The Early History of the Photo Essay

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Reflecting on this piece discussed in class I have often wondered when photojournalism actually began.  For example, when was it actually recognised and given a title or name? By nature, photographers have always created and hence documented their bodies of work.  Even without knowing, we create sets or groups of images that form a narrative…a photographic essay.

Roger Fenton it is suggested started reporting on the siege and conquest of Sebastopol during the Crimean War in 1855.  Taking images during any war must be hard but back then Fenton had to struggle with 700 light sensitive glass plates, with most measuring 12 x 16 inches.  These were carted around in a darkroom pulled by horses. Pointed out was the fact that it was the photographer who froze the action and ‘not’ the camera.  The images appeared in large volumes and were published by Thomas Agnew.  I get the impression that wars played a major part in the photo essay being born.

Propaganda exploited photography at the time for all it was worth.  Images were used in the old ‘cut and paste’ photomontage style to create posters and leaflets by both the Germans and Russians.  Yes, images indeed spoke to the masses.  Some may still argue that the image can speak a thousand words, and maybe in a time where many could not read or write then these were chosen very carefully.  It does make me wonder if the same is still being done today….


Written by Dean O'Brien

November 1, 2011 at 9:16 pm

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