‘Photography – The Whole Story’ is a book that I often use to get a global idea on the history of photography, influences and genres that have developed since the first photograph. There are a few chapters on the early years of documentary. From what I read soon after the mass production of Daguerrotypes for personal use, photography was used to document events, people and exotic places. I can imagine that there was a real hunger for images of the unknown places and people that before then had only been written about.
The photograph soon acquires the status of the depiction of reality, even though early practices already show how events were reconstructed and people photographed from a specific point of view. Images were used as a counter proof for political events, or as scientific proof for illnesses, ethnographic differences etc. It seems that photography opened the can of insatiable curiosity and ways to research.
Looking at the photographic practice now I think photographers have developed their ethics in how to portray people and places, although the core idea of showing rarities, dramatic incidents and exotic places are still the driving force of most documentary photographers.
There is a responsibility that photographers need to take up to really think about the use and effects of their photographs, but even more for viewers of images to look beyond stereotypes, ask questions about the context in which the images were taken and the usage of the photographs.