In 1858 Charles Nègre
was commissioned by Napoleon III to use photography to report on the home for convalescent workers in Vincennes (France). He took architectural views of the buildings on glass negatives but he also recorded scenes from the daily lives of the inmates. Here the images were of educational use but the selection of what to take and what to exclude reflects upon the sensitivites and political perspectives of the photographer. When Lewis W. Hine
and Jacob Riis
took photographs of squalid slums, poverty and dangerous working conditions they were well aware of the messages they wanted to communicate to the viewer - these were images and settings designed to shock the middle class into indignation and the force politicians to act.
There are many photographers who select subjects outside the 'normal' to highlight alternative lifestyles:
- Danny Lyon - In 1967 he published his first important photographic essay, 'The Bikeriders', a look at the Chicago Outlaws, a renegade motorcycle club. Although a small selection of the photographs are published in histories of photography the entire book requires careful study as it is a photodocumentary supported by a well written analysis.
- Andreas Endemann - UK bike culture.
- Masayuki Yoshinga used his experiences within the Japanese bike gangs ('Bosozoku') to gain entry to a world that fringes the criminal underworld of the 'Yakuza'.
|Masayuki Yoshinga - Japanese bike gangs|
|Masayuki Yoshinaga: Bosozoku |
Masayuki Yoshinaga (Photographer)
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|Monsters: Human Freaks in America's Gilded Age: The Photographs of Chas Eisenmann |
Chas. Eisenmann (Photographer); Michael Mitchell (Photographer); & Charles Eisenmann
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|Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition |
Diane Arbus; Doon Arbus (Editor); & Marvin Israel (Editor)
in 2005 a book of photographs by Francois-Marie Banier was published by Kerber with the title 'On the Edge'
- the title is highly appropriate because it shows those marginalized by normal society. These are people are regarded by society as 'beyond the pail' - their actions, jobs and appearance put them on the threshold of polite society. They are the homeless, mentally ill and prostitutes who can only be redeemed by the Hollywood actions of a good man as in the film 'Pretty Woman'
Between 1966 and 1971 Diane Arbus
visited homes for the mentally retarded on a regular basis. During her lifetime the resulting photographs were not published but a collection called 'Untitled'
was published after her death. Some critics including A.D. Coleman criticized the publication as a breach of privacy and these were images that Diane Arbus
had never sought to publish. Claudio Edinger
, who had to deal with Alzheimers disease in his own family, photographed inside the vast 3500 patient asylum of Juquieri in Brazil. Alex Majoli of Magnum photographed the brutal asylum on the Greek island of Leros.
We may differ in our opinions about whether these publications should be created but the result is a series of studies that are in-your-face honest about the hidden worlds that most of us never see. Exposing the conditions makes us confront them head on and hopefully this reduces the stigma and fears that the 'normal'
|Hugh Welch Diamond used photography as an addition to the patient records that he kept in his role as superintendent of the female department of Surrey County Asylum in the UK.
Among the earliest photos of a mental institution that I have come across are those from 1858-1859 taken by Charles Nègre (1820-1880) dealing with the Imperial Asylum at Vincennes in France.
It is often what we do not see that scares us the most - in the 1954 photo reportage 'Man of Mercy by W. Eugene Smith on Albert Schweitzer that was published in Life magazine the caption explains but what remains unseen is left entirely to our imagination.
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[Copyright and Fair Use Issues]
|The representation of mental illness|
|Schizophrenia - Amanda Tetrault|
|Phil and Me |
Amanda Tetrault (Photographer)
When we develop a mental or physical illness we step out of the everyday into a twilight world of partial understanding. We are forced to meet professionals who deal everyday in terminologies of which we have little understanding but a need to know - our lives can become circumscribed not only by physical changes but also by the reactions of partners, friends and colleagues. Quite simply we are no longer normal. Some photographers are able to document their own body changes whilst others record those nearest to them. Amanda Clark, the daughter of the British actress Lynn Redgrave, took a very personal series of photographs as her mother went through the process of dealing with breast cancer.
|The private world of illness|
|Journal. A Mother and Daughter's Recovery from Breast Cancer |
Annabel Clark (Photographer); & Lynn Redgrave (Text)
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|Mario Sorrenti: The Machine |
Mario Sorrenti (Photographer)
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|The Body at Risk: Photography of Disorder, Illness, and Healing |
Carol Squiers (Photographer)
Other photographers, such as Pedro Meyer
, have produced moving portfolios of relatives as death approaches. Pedro Meyer
was one of the first, if not the first, to produce an interactive CD-ROM of images about the death of his father.
With globalization cultures are increasingly merged and homogenized losing the languages, clothing styles and lifestyles that made them unique. From the early days of photography anthropologists have sought to observe, or preserve, minorities before they were exterminated or absorbed into the human tide. This trend continues today with magazines such as 'National Geographic'
documenting the lives of those that are diverse from our own.
Some groups have been photographed for over 150 years and there is an immense body of photographic evidence for how they lived - whilst for other groups there are few images before they were wiped out.
- Australian aborigines
Nicholas Caire (1837-1918) was an early Australian photographer of aborigines. (Anne and Don Pitkethly 'N.J. Caire, Landscape Photographer', Rosanna, VIC, 1988). In Tasmania the aborigine numbers decreased rapidly after colonization and by 1847 only 46 individuals remained. C.A. Woolley (1834-1922) took a studio portrait of a Tasmanian woman called Trucanini in 1866 - here the portrait is interesting because it uses the format used by contemporary portrait photographers rather than the fully body shots that were preferred by anthropologists. The paper print, now in the collection of the Royal Anthropological Institution of Great Britain and Ireland, shows the head and shoulders with the upper body fading out in the lower part of the shot, a style commonly used in carte-de-visite.
- Native Americans
In the USA there was an appreciation during the 1870's that the 'traditional' ways of the Native Americans was being rapidly altered by assimilation and military campaigns. The resulting movements of peoples from their traditional lands onto reservations was having a detrimental impact on their ways of life and it some instances threatened the survival of entire tribes. To counter this the Bureau of Ethnology' was established in 1879 under the directorship of the geologist John Wesley Powell (1834-1902). The 'Bureau of Ethnology' was housed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The study of the races of man was a relatively new science with the 'American Ethnological Society' being founded in 1842. It was not until 1902 that the 'American Anthropological Association' was founded and newly formed association assumed responsibility for the 'American Anthropologist', which was originally begun in 1888 by the 'Anthropological Society of Washington (ASW)'. In universities the subject was also new with Franz Boas being appointed lecturer in physical anthropology at Columbia University in 1896, and had been promoted to professor of anthropology in 1899. Columbia was the first American university of offer a Phd in anthropology.
With this as a background one can now examine the role that photography played in preserving one facet of the complex whole that makes up the Native American experience. John Wesley Powell at the Bureau of Ethnology appointed John K. Hillers (1843-1925) to be a staff photographer and he took over 20,000 images for the Bureau. The greatest and most sumptuous study of all minorities was that carried out by Edward Sheriff Curtis in his multi-volume study. Although this is the best known study there were innumerable other contemporary photographers who recorded different aspects of Native American life. Charles Milton Bell (1848-1893) was a Washington portrait photographer who became the official photographer for the early Native American delegations that came to Washington.
|Native Nations: Journeys in American Photography|
|Native Nations: Journeys in American Photography |
Jane Alison (Editor)
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|Strong Hearts: Native American Visions and Voices|
|Strong Hearts: Native American Visions and Voices |
Peggy Roalf (Editor); & Aperture
|Indian Nations: Pictures of American Indian Reservations in the Western United States |
Danny Lyon; & Larry McMurtry (Introduction)
|Edward Sheriff Curtis: Visions of a Vanishing Race |
Victor Boesen; Du Lac (Photographer); Florence Graybill; & Edward Sheriff Curtis
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|The North American Indian |
Edward Sheriff Curtis
Josef Koudelka, a Czech photojournalist working with Magnum, has had a life-long interest in gypsy communities and it was this work that helped to establish his reputation. Jarret Schecter's book 'Hermanovce: Four Seasons With Roma' examines the gypsies of Eastern Slovakia.
|Gypsies: Free Spirits of the Open Steppe |
Ljalja Kuznetsova (Photographer)
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|Shaking the Dust of Ages: Gypsies and Wanderers of the Central Asian Steppe |
Ljalja Kuznetsova (Photographer); Inge Morath (Introduction); & Lialia Kuznetsova
It would be an error to assume that minorities are only being recorded as curiosities or as group worth of scientific interest and under stress and with a risk of extinction. Many groups have their own photographers who record the ceremonies and small moments that make up human existence. Only rarely do these records feature in major photographic shows and get published - but many exist and hopefully the best will surface into the wider cultural world.