Photography in Sociology

Photography and sociology were born in the same period of history (the second half of the nineteenth century) and share the same curiosity with regard to society. From this point of view, it is significant that, in the period 1896-1916, the American Journal of Sociology decided to publish a good 31 articles accompanied by photographs (Faccioli, 2001).

However, apart from only the Chicago School, photography and sociology soon took different paths, each to follow its own aspirations: to become art, the former; to find recognition as a science, the latter, a young subject with badly concealed inferiority complexes with regard to “real sciences” (Faccioli, Harper, 1999).

However, the importance of the camera, as a tool for knowledge of reality, has never been missing.

To witness this there is the formidable work carried out by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the years of the great depression in the U.S.A., which set off a real and true programme of “documentary” photography. For this purpose the American government took on photographers (men and women) with the task of documenting the rural reality and the conditions of poverty of the families devastated by the economic crisis (among the most important photographers who took part in the project one recalls Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Gordon Parks).

But the true rebirth of visual aspects in sociology is to be placed (still in the USA) in the socio-cultural context of the ’60s and ‘70s, thanks to a renewed convergence of objectives between sociology and photojournalism, concerned with investigating the daily reality and striving to focus public attention on phenomena and themes such as poverty, marginality, social violence and racism. In particular, we recall the contributions of Diane Arbus and Robert Frank.

Federico Montaldo
Emanuela Abbatecola

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