Subjective Objective: A Century of Social Photography
The public acceptance of photographs as visual evidence made documentary photography possible. But that acceptance varied over time depending on the case that could be made for photographic objectivity, the mode of a photograph’s dissemination, and the desire for social change motivating many documentary projects. In addition, photographers throughout the twentieth century employed canny interventions to alternately exploit and dismantle the assumption of photography’s transparency, and play with our wish to see pictures inspire social change. This exhibition re-examines the genre of social documentary photography by focusing on the shifting criteria embedded within the public image, and the responses of imagemakers to these transformations.
Drawn from the Zimmerli Art Museum’s collection, with additional loans from public and private collections, the exhibition focuses on American, European, and Soviet and post-Soviet Russian photographers who use the camera to educate, persuade, and to effect social change. Among the photographers included in the exhibition are Berenice Abbott, Max Alpert, Nina Berman, William Castellana, Walker Evans, Larry Fink, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lewis Hine, Boris Ignatovich, Dorothea Lange, Igor Moukhin, Gordon Parks, Alexander Rodchenko, Arthur Rothstein, Sebastião Salgado, Arkady Shaikhet, Aaron Siskind, W. Eugene Smith, and Weegee. Because social documentary photography requires distribution through social channels, the exhibition also includes the published reports, journals, magazines, books, Instagram posts, and other documents that brought these images to the public eye.
This exhibition is organized by Donna Gustafson, Curator of American Art and Mellon Director for Academic Programs, and Andrés Mario Zervigón, Associate Professor, History of Photography, Department of Art History, Rutgers University. with the assistance of Julia Tulovsky, Curator of Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art; Hannah Shaw, Graduate Curatorial Assistant and PhD Candidate, Department of Art History, Rutgers University; Christine Giviskos, Curator of Prints and Drawings and European Art; and Nicole Simpson, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings. Students in the Spring 2016 graduate exhibition seminar “Reading Photography as Document” also participated in the planning of this exhibition: Leeza Cinar, Betty Jarvis, James M. Levinsohn, Sophie Ong, Kathleen Pierce, Anna Rogulina, Emily Spencer, and Tianyi Sun.
The exhibition is made possible by the Zimmerli’s Major Exhibition Fund: James and Kathrin Bergin, Alvin and Joyce Glasgold, Charles and Caryl Sills, Voorhees Family Endowment, and the Jerome A. Yavitz Charitable Foundation, Inc.–Stephen Cypen, President. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation generously provided funding for the book accompanying this exhibition and for the related symposium “Reinventing Documentary Photography in the 1970s,” held on March 23 and 24, 2017, which was organized by the Zimmerli and the Developing Room at the Center for Cultural Analysis of the School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers.