Early Documentary Essay

1379 words - 6 pages

For this assignment we were required to work in groups to give a formal presentation on early documentary. Specifically the biography and works of the following three 19th century photographers; Francis Frith, Rodger Fenton and Mathew Brady discussing three images of each photographer. These photographers were a few of the first to record history in the making. To explore and share the places captured and the people living there. This new form of communication played a vital role in the way society viewed painting and drawing. Not only as a means of conveying information but also as a medium of visual or artistic expression.

In the broadest sense, all photography not intended purely as a means of artistic expression might be considered ‘documentary’, the photograph, a visual document, of an event, place, object, or person, providing evidence of a moment in time. Yet the term ‘documentary photography’ has a more specific meaning. The Life Library's Documentary Photography (1972) defined it as ‘a depiction of the real world by a photographer whose intent is to communicate something of importance—to make a comment—that will be understood by the viewer’.

Francis Frith, an English photographer, was born in 1822. He becoming a founding member of the Liverpool Photographic Society in 1853. Frith sold his companies in 1855 in order to dedicate himself entirely to photography. He journeyed to the Middle East on three occasions, the first of which was a trip to Egypt in 1856 with very large cameras (16" x 20"). By the time Frith returned to England, he was somewhat of a celebrity.

In 1860 Frith embarked on a monumental mission. He wanted to document every city, town and village in Britain. His intention was to portray a 3D scene onto a 2D box as accurately as possible. Unlike many travel photographers he used the collodian process in preference to the more convenient paper-based calotype. This posed many problems during his expeditions to Palestine and Egypt where the climate is dominated by heat, dust and insects.

His images have a literal, straightforward representation of the most characteristics of a place. This was accomplished by having a foreground middle ground and background. When possible he added people into his images to give an idea of scale and to add information such as hobbies and fashion. (see Addendum A, fig. 1-3)
English born Fenton, came to photography from the legal profession. His first works were a series of calotypes taken during a visit to Russia. He became the principal founder of the Photographic Society of London. His most widespread acclaim came in 1855 with the Crimean War and becoming the official photographer for the British Museum after photographing Queen Victoria.

Balaklava looking seawards, (see Addendum B, fig. 1) showings a general view of the landscape and buildings with the Commandant's house in the foreground, behind which, to the right, is the ordnance wharf and the harbour with a line of ships receding to...

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