Looking at the work of these different photographers, although they all have a distinct photographic style, there are many things they have in common. First of all, they are able to photograph their communities in such a way that the subjects look like they are behaving as they always would, they are not posing and don’t have facial expressions that seem to be forced or guided (like you will see in Steve McCurry’s work for example). Second, they show communities and the broader picture of which the people are part of. Killip dedicates a large part of his photographs to the environment and elements taking place around the subjects, Danziger puts his subjects next to the other extreme, linking communities that, although they live very far apart on the social ladder, are connected to each other by their contradictions. The Survival Programmes put the subjects in a broader perspective through the use of interviews and captions.
The work shows that the photographers are trying to bring its viewers as close as possible to the subject and context in the photographs, without a pretense that the images are objective. Instead, they question what we’re seeing, putting emotion next to facts, not victimizing subjects, but showing real people with whom the viewer can identify and feel drawn to.
Here are a few pieces from an article on hyperallergic.com that I found really interesting and relevant to what I’m studying right now.
I wonder if one reason why it has taken so long for Killip’s critically celebrated series to be shown in New York is the strong anti-humanist strain that began spreading throughout the art world in the 1970s.
According to this way of thinking, the documentary genre of photography, which can only pretend to be objective, is doomed to fail; the smart, educated viewer isn’t going to be seduced or manipulated. Sherrie Levine and others associated with the Pictures Generation further solidified this view by appropriating iconic documentary images. In a world where nothing is real, everything becomes a code. This is how the Metropolitan Museum describes Levine’s 1981 photograph of Walker Evans’ photograph, “Alabama Tenant Farmer Wife” (1936), a close-up portrait of tight-lipped Allie Mae Burroughs, the wife of an Alabama sharecropper:
Levine’s works from this series tell the story of our perpetually dashed hopes to create meaning, the inability to recapture the past, and our own lost illusions.
Why does the museum’s description remind me of Dante’s Divine Comedy and the inscription at the entrance to Hell?
Abandon hope all ye who enter here?
Is this the aesthetic hell we currently inhabit — touring renovated sections of Manhattan dotted with fashionable waterholes, where we can relax and talk turkey before scooting off to the next gallery opening to see the latest expression of our lost illusions and dashed hopes? Or is this anti-humanist attitude the most efficient way to embrace our profit driven, property-centered grind? (Yau, 2016)
‘No one is posing, yet nowhere does Killip claim to be objective – a term that has been grossly misused by those who rejected documentary photography in favour of what they called art.’ (Yau, 2016)
Killip: If your pictures could convey what it’s really like to work here, that would be something. And I knew exactly what he meant. I was always trying to make photography with that responsibility. I wanted it to be more than a document, to be something that is as close as you could possibly be to the subject. (Yau, 2016)