After having researched some of the FSA photographers and having looked at their work I read the article ‘Making Sense of Documentary Photography’. This article shows that documentary photography is not as objective as it is perceived to be, the photograph and caption are influenced by prejudices of the photographer, the audience for which the photograph is taken, technical restraints, posing and arrangement of subjects and the final choice of photograph from the series in which it was taken.
I believe that there is no such thing as an ‘objective’ photograph to begin with and that this is something of which viewers and users of photographs should be fully aware of. Besides that, the way a photograph is perceived differs per viewer. Therefor it is very important to be able to read images and be aware of how captions, visual clues and composition influence the impact an image has on the viewer and the way it constructs a certain idea or judgement.
Personally I don’t think there is a right or wrong in techniques or practices itself, but it is always very important to question the reasoning, preconceived ideas and motivations behind the photographer and whether he or she is able to convey those successfully in the work. From there I certainly prefer Hine’s work over Riis’. Margaret Bourke-White’s over Dorothea Lange and Walker over Lee. This has to do with the way they either address certain inequalities, but don’t show racial prejudices, how they establish an equal understanding with the viewers or show a dismissive attitude towards their subjects.
When it comes to exploitation I find it difficult to come up with a clear opinion. I would be very upset myself if an image of me was used for political purposes that I oppose to, or that are not true to who I am or believe in. In that sense I would feel exploited and done wrong. On the other hand, documentary photographers have been able to raise awareness about injustice and have been a tool for social change, so I would not want to dismiss it altogether.
Concluding I think the most important thing is that viewers adopt a critical eye when looking at photographs and reading their captions. As a photographer I have to be aware and sensitive of the impact that my work may have on viewers and the impact it might have on the subjects in the photograph. It goes beyond what I produce, but also expands in the audience I choose to show it to and whether I use the image for personal gain or as a tool for change.