What follows is, of course, just me beating out a familiar theme. I came across this post
, which links to a story in the Brazilian press, the latest (I suppose) in the genre "track down the subject in the documentary photo." The initial image of the little girl is a famous photograph by Sebastião Salgado. Some earlier installments in the genre:
The original portraits are (from the top) of Joceli Borges (Salgado, 1996), Sharbat Gula (Steve McCurry, 1985), Kim Phuc (Nick Ut, 1972), and Florence Thompson and her children (Dorothea Lange, 1936). Typically these sort of "before & after" reports do two things. They demonstrate the determination and cleverness of the reporter who tracks down the subject years after the initial photograph is taken. And they provide an outlet for vaguely liberal anxieties about the "ethics" of documentary photography. Rarely do they prompt serious questioning of either (1) the political catastrophe the portrait is meant to convey - economic dislocation, destitution, war and the sorts of forced migration they typically generate or (2) the photographic conventions that, over the course of six plus decades leads photographers and their editors to depict large scale political problems reductionist in terms of the plight not just of individuals but of individual women.*
* There are a few exceptions to this latter claim. Martha Rosler ["In, around, and Afterthoughts (on documentary photography)"] and Bob Harriman and John Lucaites [No Caption Needed] both of whom and who discuss the Lange image at great length. Likewise, Holly Edwards [In her contribution to Beautiful Suffering] traces the career of the McCurry photograph in insightful ways.
Labels: Conventions, documentary, Dorothea Lange, photojournalism, Political Not Ethical, Salgado