History of Still Photography
Unit 11 Overview:
Social Documentation

View this 4 1/2 minute video announcement or click here to read the transcript.


In the 20th century, photography matured as a medium for both artistic expression (as we have explored in the previous two units) and social documentation. On the one hand, photographs are mechanical renderings of one's physical environment, offering the notion of truthfulness and objectivity. This opens doors for using photography for social activism and raising the public's consciousness about problems that go otherwise unnoticed. What the camera shows shapes the ideas and values of individuals but also, as a culture at large. But the notion of photography as a neutral 'document' of a scene, object, or event also opens the door for manipulative uses of the photographic image. In other words, who is monitoring, shepherding, and editing the the images you see? What motives and values guide the process of 'selection' and how, ultimately, are viewers affected?

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify and discuss the contributions of Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange to 20th century photography.
  2. Discuss the role that the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and, more specifically, photographs played in shaping the social American consciousness during the Great Depression.
  3. Critically analyze the role that Roy Stryker played the construction of the FSA photographic campaign.
  4. If you haven't done so yet, identify a photographer to interview for your photographer showcase and move on to Step 2!

What's Next?

Return to Blackboard and open the Unit 11 Content & Activities folder.