Review by Choice Review
The role of American social documentary photography in effecting social change is reexamined in this superb critical history. Stange (Clark University) traces the roots of the concept to Jacob Riis's crusading tenement investigations of the 1890s, and she details the concept's development through Lewis Hine's work to Roy Styker and the Farm Security Administration (FSA) project. Stange examines the institutional demands and political motivation behind a half century of social projects and reveals how removing photographs from the context of their sources and publishing them with the rhetoric of social reformers gave them meanings different from what the photographers intended. By showing how editorial and exhibition practices often manipulated the simple directness of the pictures to achieve political objectives, she argues that documentary photography evolved as a tool of bureaucracy and business, which used its convincing realism to legitimize reformist social ideas. Her book adds an important dimension to F.J. Hurley's Portrait of a Decade (CH, Sep '73), still one of the best studies of the FSA, and it complements Documenting America, 1935-1943, ed. by C. Fleischhauer and B. Brannan (CH, Jul '89), and J. Hunter's recent Image and Word (CH, Dec '87). Superbly detailed notes. Highly recommended for all collections serving upper-division undergraduate courses in photojournalism, the history of photography, and American studies. -G. M. Craven, emeritus, De Anza College
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
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