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Refocusing America: American Society Through the Camera's Lens, 1945-2000
Unformatted Document Text:  life on the American frontier. 4 Introduced at approximately the same time as Kodak’s film, the halftone proved an equally, if not more momentous, innovation in photography. Enabling the faithful reproduction of images alongside text, the halftone cemented photography’s place within journalism. While these advances signaled progress within photojournalism, concern with how to capture movement had not abated. Eadweard Muybridge responded to these considerations by revolutionizing photography, both in content and meaning, with his studies of human and animal motion. While Muybridge’s innovative work inspired photographers, it bore even more profound implications, raising the question of the photographer’s obligation in presenting an image. Was the role of the photographer to “tell it like it is” or to tell it as he perceived it? What precisely constituted reality was challenged. The myth of photographic objectivity was questioned, exposing Walter Lippman’s naivete in observing photographs as `utterly real,’ coming `directly to us without human meddling.’ 5 With the definition of reality in flux, photographers were afforded the opportunity to utilize visual imagery in an effort to make broader commentaries about society, politics, and culture. As John Tagg claimed, the photograph was “a material product of a material apparatus set to work in specific contexts, by specific forces, for more or less defined purposes.” 6 The power of photography was unleashed. While Tagg’s discussion of photography’s role in cultivating democracy in Great Britain revealed the influence exerted by the medium upon the `social body,’ the significance of Tagg’s analysis rests in its Progressive analog in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. Throughout the course of the Progressive movement, Americans witnessed the rise of the social documentary as a unique genre of photography. Depicting many of the prevailing vices and ills of society, the social documentary gained prominence at the hands of muckrakers such as Jacob Riis and later Lewis Hine. Images of sweat shops, the abominable conditions in tenement houses, child labor, and 4 For additional background information, see “19 th- Century History” in Fred S. Parrish, Photojournalism: An Introduction. 5 Walter Lippman, Public Opinion (New York: Macmillan, 1922) in James A. Fosdick and Percy H. Tannenbaum, “The Encoder’s Intent and Use of Stylistic Elements in Photographs,” Journalism Quarterly Spring 1964: 176.

Authors: Maurantonio, Nicole.
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background image
life on the American frontier.
4
Introduced at approximately the same time as Kodak’s film, the halftone proved an equally, if not
more momentous, innovation in photography. Enabling the faithful reproduction of images alongside
text, the halftone cemented photography’s place within journalism. While these advances signaled
progress within photojournalism, concern with how to capture movement had not abated.
Eadweard Muybridge responded to these considerations by revolutionizing photography, both
in content and meaning, with his studies of human and animal motion. While Muybridge’s innovative
work inspired photographers, it bore even more profound implications, raising the question of the
photographer’s obligation in presenting an image. Was the role of the photographer to “tell it like it is” or
to tell it as he perceived it? What precisely constituted reality was challenged. The myth of photographic
objectivity was questioned, exposing Walter Lippman’s naivete in observing photographs as `utterly
real,’ coming `directly to us without human meddling.’
5
With the definition of reality in flux, photographers were afforded the opportunity to utilize
visual imagery in an effort to make broader commentaries about society, politics, and culture. As John
Tagg claimed, the photograph was “a material product of a material apparatus set to work in specific
contexts, by specific forces, for more or less defined purposes.”
6
The power of photography was
unleashed. While Tagg’s discussion of photography’s role in cultivating democracy in Great Britain
revealed the influence exerted by the medium upon the `social body,’ the significance of Tagg’s analysis
rests in its Progressive analog in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America.
Throughout the course of the Progressive movement, Americans witnessed the rise of the social
documentary as a unique genre of photography. Depicting many of the prevailing vices and ills of
society, the social documentary gained prominence at the hands of muckrakers such as Jacob Riis and
later Lewis Hine. Images of sweat shops, the abominable conditions in tenement houses, child labor, and
4
For additional background information, see “19
th-
Century History” in Fred S. Parrish, Photojournalism:
An Introduction.
5
Walter Lippman, Public Opinion (New York: Macmillan, 1922) in James A. Fosdick and Percy H.
Tannenbaum, “The Encoder’s Intent and Use of Stylistic Elements in Photographs,” Journalism Quarterly
Spring 1964: 176.


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