A social issue is a problem thatinfluences a large number of the people within society. It is often aconflicting opinion on the grounds of what is perceived as a morally right.Social issues are affecting the world as we get on with our everyday lives.Photography is a key element within documenting these social issues, forexample, poverty, homelessness or even starvation. I have chosen specificallyto look at homelessness in today’s society and explore how social documentaryphotography has helped impact viewers of this horrific happening and whether ithas created awareness. Before this, I will firstly look at where socialdocumentary photography originated and where it has taken us through history tonow.
It is a form of documentary photography, with the aim to draw the public’sattention to ongoing social issues sometimes in a specific time period. It mayalso refer to a socially critical genre of photography dedicated to showing thelife of underprivileged or disadvantaged people – (2). Social documentaryphotography has been and still is an act of producing awareness by documenting theunprivileged and shocking those who go by their everyday lives without a lookdown or a thought to those lesser of than themselves within society. But howmuch has social documentary photography impacted on society? Social documentary photography hasoriginated in the 20th Century (although documenting in photographic form allstarted back in the 19th Century) with the work of the photographic practice ofthe Farm Security Administration (FSA) in the USA. The FSA hired photographersand writers to report and document the lives as well as document the dangerousand difficult work of poor, disadvantaged farmers. The photographers documentedthe horrifying situation of these farmers, whose finical existence was underthreat due to the ongoing issues in which America had in the AmericanDepression stage. The FSA was “attempting to restore faith in Americansociety” (10).
The reality is that Americans were victimized by disasterssuch as dust bowls which all are beyond their control during The GreatDepression period in America. (10) This all created a new style of photographyof the documentation of social problems. Social documentary photography haspassed throughout the years to documenting poverty within the wars as well asthe suffering of certain races and religions.
Nowadays, we have started toresolve these social issues and now are focusing on what is happening now.Poverty is still a massive issue which affects millions of people in the UK letalone other countries whose figures are higher. Poverty can be homelessness aswell as not being able to afford the everyday essentials of water and food.This can be caused by low income, high costs of everyday essentials, low levelsof education as well as discrimination and weak relationships (6). Social Documentaryphotographers are raising awareness by documenting the daily lives of thoseless fortunate or taking horrifying images to shock viewers, therefore,creating a great impact which forces through awareness.
Photographer LeeJefferies is doing exactly that. Firstly, getting to know the people on thestreets by sleeping rough with them and hearing their stories then explainingabout him wanting to raise awareness through photography. The images taken arecreepy and shocking but have done the job. With all images sold, some of themoney goes towards the homeless people who allowed their photo to be taken andthe rest of homeless charities (7,8,9). Social documentary photography isan act of producing awareness by documenting the unprivileged and shocking thosewho go by their everyday lives without a look down or a thought to those lesserof than themselves within society. This documenting all started backin the 19th Century.
The 20th Century was where photographers were hired by theFSA (Farm Security Administration) to document the dangerous and difficult workof the poor farmers. During The Great Depression period in America. This allcreated a new form of documentary photography by documenting social problems.(11) Arthur Rothstein – Social DocumentaryPhotographer – picture of a farmer and his two sons during a dust storm inCimarron County, 1936. “All the days were aboutalike then. For a three-year-old kid, you just go outside and play, dust blowsand sand blows, and you don’t know any different.
One evening a black dustercome in here from the north. We had kerosene lamps. And it got so dark youcouldn’t see with kerosene lamps. —Darrel Coble. (the boy at right in the photograph,recalling the Dust Bowl days as an adult)” – (15) FSA photographs created sympathyfor the farming citizens through the wide distribution in newspapers andmagazines during the time. As intended, these photographs also proved hownecessary the government’s assistance programs were to the survival of thosehit hardest by the depression and dust bowl disasters. – (15) The combinedeffects of the Great Depression and the dust bowl drought devastated thecountry physically, financially, and emotionally in the 1930s.
The GreatDepression started with a severe economic downturn in 1929 and lasted more thana decade. Frenzied speculation in the stock market, particularly by investorswho borrowed money to buy stock, drove the market to unreasonably high levels.When stocks began to fall in value, panic seized investors. The huge sell-offthat followed plunged the country into years of high unemployment and bankclosures. In a terrible coincidence, the dust bowl disaster began atapproximately the same time as the Great Depression. Extreme weather patternsbrought drought and high winds to the southern Plains. This affected mainlyTexas and Oklahoma as well as western Kansas, and eastern areas of Colorado andNew Mexico. Lands were already damaged from hard rooted soils due to drying outand other bits of land were over-farmed.
The drought in conjunction with fiercewinds exhausted the soil further which created fearsome dust storms – (15). My perception/views…
This imageshows me the awful everyday life of a farmer in America during the GreatDepression period and the dust bowls which happened at near enough the sametime. This was a horrible time for the American and they all held the Americandream in their heads as reality was far from the dream. Their home is an oldshed-like building which seams worn and broken telling me the high amounts ofpoverty in this horrendous time. As a viewer, I feel this has impacted me in away in which I feel more grateful for the home I live in and the conditionswhich I live in. Seeing this image, the impact upon society should have been hugeat the time with the feeling of want to change, change to the need for change.The image shows how isolated people were in those times, suggesting not onlythe conditions being bad but it being quite a sad and lonely life.
This is whypeople during the time period has many kids. Further images during this periodincluded Dorothea Lange’s photograph “Migrant Mother” which was takenin 1936, which was the middle of the Great Depression. (16) The viewer can seethe sad and unhopeful look on the mother’s appearance, making the viewer wonderwhat she is worried about. Is she concerned about her family? Does she wonderhow she’s going to set food on her table for that day? Will her kids be alrightfor just one more day? Social Documentary photography is something that has continually beenapproached by many photographers throughout the decades, most commonlydocumenting protests and poverty nowadays. A photographer who has taken socialdocumentary photography into his own hands is Lee Jefferies who capturesintimate photos of the homeless to create awareness for the people who getignored on the streets.
Lee Jefferies is an Accountant and Amateur Sports Photographer. Hetakes intimate portraits of the homeless which are taken with horrific detailwhich can be perceived as “uncomfortable” with “every grain ofdirt and, every scar laid bare” (20). It all started with Jefferies inLondon before he was to run the marathon he went around taking photos. Henoticed amongst the crowds that there was a young homeless girl in a doorway toa shop in Leicester Square who was walked past and un-noticed by the colossalamounts of tourists. Jefferies decided to take pictures of her, but he stood away off. Noticing him, “she kicked up a right fuss” – Jefferies (20).Jefferies talked to the girl to find out her story and since that moment hisproject arisen to capture intimate shots of the homeless in order to raiseawareness and money for the homeless.
He pays his “subjects” for thephotos he takes and continues to help them after when their photos make money.Some of the homeless are not as keen as some others to let Jefferies take thephoto and this project has had its risks where Jefferies has even had a gunpointed to his head and been demanded money, even though he pays everyoneanyway. This is self-funded. Jefferies choose his “subjects” throughselection of whether he can “see something in their eyes” and feelthe emotion otherwise the image “won’t work” and therefore will lackin impact. – (20).
Jefferies initially shoots everything naturally, withnatural lighting and capturing in-camera black and white. Then he edits thephotos to give them this grainy edge to create impact and emotion within hisimages. He claims that it makes his photographs look more “artistic” -(20). UNKNOWN – 2011 This image steals my heart as a viewer making me feel helpless inproviding for this little girl. Her eyes are the first to pop out for me withthem watering and telling her story, just by a sad look.
Though we can not findout the story of this little girl you can make suggestions to what she mighthave been through. This could be anything from abandonment to her parentsliving with her on the streets because they couldn’t afford a home or even thelittle girl running away from home. Theway she is looking up creates dark shadows not just below but above her eyestoo; she is tired and weak. The bags underneath her eyes is a suggestion oflack of sleep, this could be due to the conditions on the street where shemight be too scared or cold to sleep.
Moreover, her face seems slightly screwedup as if she is trying to withhold all her emotions and bottle up her feelings;she is on the verge of tears. Not onlythis, but her clothes are dirty suggesting she doesn’t have anything else.Looking closer, it seems the clothes are some sort of uniform for school, doesshe attend school and get the education she deserves as a child with the rightto learn and have an equal chance in life as everybody else. In addition, herhair blows across her face in clumps, this suggests to me as a viewer that shedoesn’t have a place to clean herself and shower as grease causes your hair tomatt and clump together.
Overall, the sad, desperate look the little girlexpresses within this imager in which Lee Jefferies has captured isheart-breaking and definitely will create an impact wider spread to think aboutthe forgotten on the streets. With the grainy editing that Jefferies uses inhis imagery, he is able to climax the impact further pulling out all the tinydetails in the faces of the homeless for us as viewers to interpret thehorrifying reality of the story of whom the homeless girl is. UNKNOWN – 2011 This image is another of Lee Jefferies, here I am now showing that thehomeless can range through all ages and genders and as you can imagine, LeeJefferies has met a large variety of people in his time doing this homelessproject, all with different stories. With this man, he seems really old andtired with all the wrinkles which cover his face. Not only this, his face isscrewed up but this time it is not sadness, it is more anger and aggression.This could suggest to the viewer that this man has turned to drugs and alcoholto take away from the sadness and sorrow.
Looking deeper, I can see someone whohas maybe taken risks, and with the anger, this could suggest that he mighthave been quite successful in life before becoming homeless. One eye is closed,this opens up questions for the viewer, intriguing them into the photo,therefore creating impact, which is what Jefferies set out to do. Finally, hishair is grown out and matted (un-neat) which suggests to me that he has beenhomeless for a few months, maybe even years. Overall, the range of peopleJefferies meets allows his photos as a combination viewed together to create alarger impact on the people viewing them as it shows the variety of emotionsrunning through the homeless and the variety of ages and genders bringingtogether to create one huge impact within society within social documentary photographytoday. Jefferies as a photographer has succeeded in creating awareness withinthe use of intimate up-close photography and this is within the element ofsocial documentary photography. Overall, social documentary photography has taken us throughouthistory and allowed us to create proof for the happenings around the world aswell as some truth within the reality of events. From The American Depressionand Dust bowls all the way through the World Wars and then to now with a highproportion of social documentary photography documenting poverty.
I feel that Ihave proved that social documentary photography has created an impactthroughout history and allowed viewers of the photographs at the time to grieveand feel sorrow, although not much was done to help the farmers and nothingcould be done to change back time to revive who died in the war bombing. Today,things can be done due to changes in technology as now social media allows usas a society to come together as a community; all around the world, we areconnected so we can put forward more of an opinion to create a larger impactwhich consequently allows implementation to stop the suffering. With myproject, I had the idea of creating an impact myself at creating scary persontypes to shock viewers to not trust anyone. There is a huge stereotype of whata murderer should look like which I wanted to break. This was in combinationwith the idea that anyone has the potential to be a murderer through myresearch into real-life murders and the fact they are unsuspected. I askedpeople who viewed my piece and had read the artist statement what they hadthought of my project. The response was that the image is unforgettable andtherefore, they are scared, allowing them to be more aware.
You should be awareof your surroundings, you never know, who you think you know might not be theperson you see on the outside. As a consequence of social documentaryphotography, we as a society have gained awareness and therefore I conclude itcreates impact.ChristinaLayzell – Stereotypes within Murderers – 2017