Social Documentary

Les Demoiselles D'Avignon

Lewis Hine, Five Year Old Newsboy, 1910.











Jacob Riis, Going Down the Gangplank, c. 1880s.










Jacob Riis, NY Tenement, c. 1880s.











Jacob Riis, Bandits' Roost, New York, 1888.

muckraker = journalist who investigates and exposes societal issues











Abuse is the normal condition of “the Bend,” murder its everyday crop, with the tenants not always the criminals. In this block between Bayard, Park, Mulberry, and Baxter Streets, “the Bend” proper, the late Tenement House Commission counted 155 deaths of children in a specimen year (1882). Their per centage of the total mortality in the block was 68.28, while for the whole city the proportion was only 46.20. The infant mortality in any city or place as compared with the whole number of deaths is justly considered a good barometer of its general sanitary condition. Here, in this tenement, No. 59 1/2, next to Bandits’ Roost, fourteen persons died that year, and eleven of them were children; in No. 61 eleven, and eight of them not yet five years old. According to the records in the Bureau of Vital Statistics only thirty-nine people lived in No. 59 1/2 in the year 1888, nine of them little children. There were five baby funerals in that house the same year. Out of the alley itself, No. 59, nine dead were carried in 1888, five in baby coffins. - from How the Other Half Lives
Jacob Riis, Tenement on Mulberry Street, c. 1880s.











Riis consistently argued that the
"poor were the victims rather than the makers of their fate"

Social Darwinism = belief that society's evolve like organisms and only the fit will survive, while the weak and unfit should be allowed to die and go extinct
  • An important aspect of this line of thinking was the belief that poverty was a just reward for sin
Social Uplift = belief that crime is an effect of poverty rather than its cause
Jacob Riis, Street Arabs, c. 1880s.











Italian Ragpicker

Jacob Riis, Home of an Italian Ragpicker, New York, 1888.


More Jacob Riis Photographs











Lewis Hine, Italian Madonna, 1905.











Lewis Hine, Breaker Boys Working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co., 1911.











Lewis Hine, Newsies at Skeeter's Branch, 1912.
Lewis Hine, Boys in the Packing Room, Brown Mfg., Indianna, c. 1900s.











1907 government inquiry revealed that at least 1,750,178 children between 10 and 15 years old were working in US factories
In cotton mills, almost 50% of the workers were an average of 10 years old
Lewis Hine, Addie Card, Twelve Year Old Spinner in New England Mill, 1913.











Eugene Atget, Avenue L'Observatoire, 1926.











Eugene Atget, Avenue des Gobelins, 1925.


punctum = that which unexpectedly reaches out and pierces the viewer,
thereby giving new meaning to the image











Eugene Atget, Autoportrait, 63 quai de la Tournelle, 1908.










E.J. Bellocq, Storeyville Portrait, c. 1900 - 1917.











E.J. Bellocq, Storeyville Portrait; Untitled, Plate 27 (Reclining Nude with a Mask), c. 1912.











E.J. Bellocq, Storeyville Portrait, c. 1900 - 1917.











E.J. Bellocq, Storeyville Portrait, c. 1900 - 1917.











E.J. Bellocq, Storeyville Portrait, c. 1900 - 1917.











E.J. Bellocq, Damaged Storeyville Portrait, c. 1900 - 1917.











The Great Depression
1929 - 1941
Global economic crisis
  • Numerous bank failures and factory closures sparked by the 1929 NY Stock Market crash
  • 1 out of 4 workers unemployed at a time when most families survived on one income
  • Dramatic drop in industrial production
1931 drought, wind storms and over farming turned the Great Plains into the Dust Bowl
Dorothea Lange, Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas, 1939.











The New Deal
1933 - 1937

Direct relief, economic recovery and financial reform
New Deal programs oversaw loans, flood control, migrant camps, agricultural education, work relief and the creation of the social security system
Dorothea Lange,  Men Walking Towards
Los Angeles
, c. 1935.










Resettlement Administration (later known as the Farm Security Administration) intended to move distressed farmers into more economically viable service and industrial jobs
  • Roy E. Stryker appointed chief of the historical section
  • Historical section's aim was to gather visual evidence in support of the RA's good works and to distribute these images, free of charge, to the nation's news agencies
FSA, Okies, c. 1935.










Dorothea Lange











"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions.











I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two.











She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food.











There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it." - Dorothea Lange











Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936.