Berenice Abbott: 1951 - the photo documentary

Berenice Abbott, Universal Photo Almanac, 1951, republished in Photographers on Photography, Prentice-Hall, 1966. Creative Camera, November, 1974, page 364-365

To chart a course, one must have a direction. In reality, the eye is no better than the philosophy behind it. The photographer creates, evolves a better, a more selective, more acute seeing eye by looking ever more sharply at what is going on in the world. Like every other means of expression, photography, if it is to be utterly honest and direct, should be related to the life of the times––the pulse of today. The photograph may be presented as finely and artistically as you will; but to merit serious consideration, must be directly connected with the world we live in.

What we need is a return, on a mounting spiral of historic understanding, to the great tradition of realism. Since ultimately the photograph is a statement, a document of the now, a greater responsibility is put on us. Today, we are confronted with reality on the vastest scale mankind has known. Some people are still unaware that reality contains unparalleled beauties. The fantastic and unexpected, the everchanging and renewing is nowhere so exemplified as in real life itself. Once we understand this, it exercises a dynamic compulsion on us, and a photo-document is born.

I have yet to see a fine photograph which is not a good document.

The term ‘documentary’ is sometimes applied in a rather derogatory sense to the type of photography which to me seems logical. To connect the term ‘documentary’ with only the 'ash-can school' is so much sheer nonsense, and probably stems from the bad habit of pigeon-holing and labelling everything like the well-known 57 varieties. Actually, documentary pictures include every subject in the world––good, bad, indifferent. I have yet to see a fine photograph which is not a good document.


2007-01-01 21:06:15



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