|Early examples of photo reportage |
Contents Fragments Theme PhV Checklist
The early history of documentary photography and what would eventually become photojournalism consists of the small number of newsworthy incidents of which photographs have survived or are known to have existed. Until the halftone printing process became commonly used towards the end of the nineteenth century it was not possible to print photographs and therefore they had to be converted into woodcuts or engravings.
Early examples of photo reportage can be divided into several categories:
Although catastrophes and war have provided some of the most dramatic images photography was being used in other fields of photojournalism because of its ability to provide a social commentary to abuses of the poor.
- Natural catastrophes
The Hamburg Fire (5-8th May 1842) with Daguerreotypes by Hermann Biow (?-1850) is currently thought to be the first news event captured on a photographic plate.
PhVThe Hamburg Fire (1842)
There are 1843 Daguerreotypes by an unknown photographer of the floods at the port of Nantes in France .
PhVFloods at Nantes (1843)
In 1853 George N. Barnard took two photographs of the fires at the Ames and Doolittle mills, Oswego, New York and he went on to record the American Civil War (1861-1865).
PhVGeorge N. Barnard: Fire at Oswego Mills (1853)
In 1864 James Mudd recorded the devastation of the Great Flood when the Dale Dyke Dam burst to the west of Sheffield in Northern England.
PhVJames Mudd: The Great Flood in Sheffield (1864)
- Social upheavals
During the Year of Revolutions (1848) in Europe two Daguerreotypes of the Great Chartist meeting on Kennington Common in Britain were taken by William Kilburn and others of the street barricades of Paris recorded by M. Thibault.
PhVThe Year of Revolutions (1848)
- The individual in peril
The plight of a single individual is something that the public can sympathize with. One of the earliest such tragedies photographically recorded was at Niagara Falls by Platt D. Babbitt (1823-1879) in July 1853. Joseph Avery clung to a rock for hours before losing his grip and being drowned.
Such events continue to be a mainstay of news journalism with examples such as the photograph John Gilpin took of stowaway Keith Sapsford as he fell to his death from a Japan Air DC-8 over Sydney, Australia in February 1970. During the attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 Richard Drew took a photograph of The Falling Man who was falling to certain death. The man photographed at exactly 9:41:15 a.m. is in peril as we know there is no chance of survival. There is nothing else in the photograph except the walls of the North Tower and that itself will collapse later on. When documentary film director Henry Singer spoke about in an interview he said:
What is extraordinary beyond the graphic composition of this image — the parallel lines, the light on one of the towers — is the fact that the Falling Man, as he has come to be known, looks so composed. It’s the most horrific moment but there is a calmness to the image. And I think this is one of the reasons why it is so memorable. It captures the last moments of somebody’s life but it does so in a way that is peaceful and beautiful at the same time. That is one of the many reasons why it has burned itself into the consciousness of anybody who has looked at it.
PhVIndividuals in peril
War photography is such a key part of photojournalism that it is discussed at considerable length elsewhere on this website but a few relevant points can be repeated here.
The photographs of Roger Fenton and James Robertson during Crimean War (1854-1856) are amongst the first of any conflict.
PhVThe Crimean War
In America Adrian J. Ebell photographed the refugees from the Indian attacks on the Northern Plains that led to the First Indian War and they were published as copied illustrations for the article The Indian Massacres and the War of 1862 that appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1863).
PhVAdrian J. Ebell: The Indian Massacres and the War of 1862
The large number of photographs taken by the associates of Mathew Brady), Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan and many others of the American Civil War (1861-1865) are also key works in early photojournalism . Single events such as General Grant's Council of War at Massaponax Church (Virginia) on 21st May 1864, photographed by Timothy O’Sullivan show how photography was used as the basis for printed illustrations in popular publications such as Century Magazine.
PhVTimothy O’Sullivan: General Grant's Council of War at Massaponax Church (21 May 1864)
- Extended reports on an event
The photographs by Alois Löcherer (1815-1862) documented the construction of the sixty foot tall bronze statue of Bavaria by Ludwig von Schwanthaler (1802-48). This is the first known example of photo reportage over an extended period.
PhVAlois Löcherer: The statue of Bavaria
Local Daguerreotypist Thomas Easterly photographed Big Mound. Fifth and Mound Streets, St. Louis in 1852-1854 and when the destruction of the mound was carried out in 1869 he took a series of daguerreotypes to document the event.
PhVThomas Easterly: The Big Mound (1852-1854)
- Λ 1854, The New England Farmer, vol. 6, p. 453 - gives a brief contemporary account:
"The destructive fire which occured here on the 5th of July, 1853, destroyed most of the mills and elevators on the east side of the river. Through indomitable energy, however, they have all been rebuilt, upon a larger and more extensive scale, with all the modern improvements."
- Λ For the photographic work of George N. Barnard during the American Civil War - George N. Barnard, 1866 (ca), Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign, Embracing Scenes of the Occupation of Nashville, the Great Battles around Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain, the Campaign of Atlanta, March to the Sea, and the Great Raid through the Carolinas, (New York: Press of Wynkoop & Hallenbeck); George N. Barnard, 1977, Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign, (New York: Dover Publications) [Preface by Beaumont Newhall]; Keith F. Davis, Keith (ed.), 1990, George N. Barnard: Photographer of Sherman’s Campaign, (Kansas City, MO: Hallmark Cards)
- Λ Geoffrey Amey, 1974, The collapse of the Dale Dyke Dam, 1864, (Cassell)
- Λ William Edward Kilburn's daguerreotype of the "Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common" (10 April 1848) is in The Royal Collection 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, RCIN 2932484. The original was purchased by Prince Albert in 1848.
- Λ The commerical opportunities of this personal tragedy were such that daguerreotype copies, stereoviews by George E. Curtis, and cartes de visite were sold.
- Λ 9/11: The Falling Man - Documentary (2006, 80 mins), Director: Henry Singer, IMDB
- Λ Adam Harrison Levy, The Falling Man: An Interview with Henry Singer
(Acccessed: 25 May 2014)
See also: "The Falling Man", Wikipedia
(Accessed: 26 May 2014)
- Λ Roger Fenton is the best known of Crimean War photographers and there is a considerable amount written about him - Gordon Baldwin et al., 2004, All the Mighty World: The Photographs of Roger Fenton, 1852–1860, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art); Helmut & Alison Gernsheim, 1954, Roger Fenton: Photographer of the Crimean War, (London: Secker & Warburg);
John Hannavy, 1975, Fenton of Crimble Hall, (Boston: David R. Godine); Valerie Lloyd, 1988, Roger Fenton: Photographer of the 1850s, (London: South Bank Board); Richard Pare, 1987, Roger Fenton, (New York: Aperture).
For a rephotographic study - David R. Jones, 2012, In the Footsteps of Roger Fenton, Crimean War Photographer, (www.lulu.com: self-published)
- Λ Adrian J. Ebell, 1863, June, ‘The Indian Massacres and War of 1862‘, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, vol. 27, no. 157; Alan R. Woolworth, 1994, Summer, ‘Adrian J. Ebell, Photographer and Journalist of the Dakota War of 1862‘, Minnesota History, pp. 87-92
- Λ There is a large literature on Mathew Brady and he remains the best known photographer of the American Civil War even though he may not have taken many photographs himself. His role in financing teams of photographers was critical in providing the rich visual legacy we have of the war.
For a biography - Robert Wilson, 2013, Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation, (Bloomsbury)
Barry Britzker, 2003, Mathew Brady, (JG Press); James D. Horan, 1955, Mathew Brady: Historian With a Camera, (Bonanza); Roy Meredith, 1976, The World of Mathew Brady: Portraits of the Civil War Period, (Brooke House Publishers); Roy Meredith, 1982, Mathew Brady’s Portrait of an Era, (New York and London: W. W. Norton); Mary Panzer, 2001, Mathew Brady, (MA, Boston: Phaidon Inc); Theodore P. Savas, 2008, Brady's Civil War Journal: Photographing the War, 1861-65, (New York: Skyhorse Publications); George Sullivan, 1994, Mathew Brady: His Life and Photographs, (New York, Cobblehill/Dutton)
- Λ Alexander Gardner, 2003, Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the American Civil War, (New York: Delano Greenidge); Alexander Gardner & E.F. Bleiler, 1959, Gardner‘s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War, (New York, Dover Publications); Brooks Johnson, 1991, An Enduring Interest: The Photographs of Alexander Gardner, (Norfolk, VA: Chrysler Museum)
- Λ Some of the most famous photographs taken by Timothy O'Sullivan of the American Civil War are included in - Alexander Gardner, 2003, Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the American Civil War, (New York: Delano Greenidge)
- Λ Alois Löcherer, 1998, Alois Löcherer. Photographien 1845 - 1855, (Schirmer /Mosel Verlag Gm)
- Λ Delores A. Kilgo, 1994, Likeness and Landscape: Thomas M. Easterly and the Art of the Daguerreotype, (University of New Mexico Press)
Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International