Le Voyeur Social

There is no age or sex to be put apart from the society. In every culture of the world, there are always some people who are less people than humans: the sub-humans who are living in the sub-societies of our “civilized” world.

Social documentary is probably the most sociological and most human of all categories in photography, and you do need to have big guts to be a social documentary photography: to be a social voyeur. I’m not talking about ethnical world or war photography, I’m talking about what happens in this global society: homeless, drugs, alcohol, mental illness, hunger, prostitution, gangs, unemployment, child labour, slavery, abuse… and this is not THEIR issue, it’s OUR issue as members of the society that we all built this way.

by ©Sebastiao Salgado

by ©Sebastiao Salgado

Social documentary photographers are doing a so great job as the doctors without frontiers and other social volunteers. These social voyeurs are being life witness and showing us so we can be conscious of the society next door.

SMI 5 by ©JimAMortram

SMI 5 by ©JimAMortram

Last week in Paris, the city of light, the romantic place where so many people come to get married, the most visited city in the world, with the most fancy restaurants and fashion brands, had negative temperatures and snow. It was freezing and walking back home at night like a snowman walking, right in La Bastille, I saw several homeless people, including children. We can’t just blame their parents; we can only blame the society and ourselves… but just blaming someone is too easy to do.

Paris #1, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Paris postcard #11, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Paris #20, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Paris postcard #20, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Social documentary photographs are screams to the world. They are uncomfortable to see, not easy to sell, not easy to exhibit. Usually a social documentary photographer works in projects or series to newspapers or magazines. They can’t be more under rated.

by ©Abir Abdullah

by ©Abir Abdullah

If you’re a photographer you know that you only need a good wide lens to take a magnificent shot of a landscape “a la Ansel Adams“. Do it in B/W, print in large scale and you have lots of people saying how amazing it is. You exhibit and you sell because people love to own large size landscapes at home. Especially if it is the Grand Canyon or the Kilimanjaro Mountain. It’s comfortable photography. It works like a drug for us to look at and be happy thinking that there’s the world to escape.

by ©Claire Martin

by ©Claire Martin

How many of you would have on your walls the photo of the girl by Steve McCurry? She’s beautiful, the light on her face, the colours, her eyes… But how many of you didn’t turn around your face when you saw that same girl 17 years older? We all avoid being witness of human misery. And I know that is no longer Christmas for you to go and relieve your conscious “giving a tip to the misfortune ones”.
Social Documentary photographers are as admired as they are uncomfortable when they show their work. And here we’re not talking about how the light was great, how the composition came out so balanced. Here we talk about the most important: the message. The subject. And that’s why it’s the most uncomfortable photography: it makes us a Social Voyeur. A witness of the world in decay.

by Diane Arbus

by Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus was great on that: she brought forgotten people to be seen as humans like any of us, in the most wonderful way. She didn’t steal their souls; instead she put her soul into them and showed it to the world.

Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Sebastiao Salgado, Dorothea Lange, Luc Delahaye and Manuel Rivera-Ortiz are few of the social photographers that you probably have heard of. Or Jim Mortram, who’s doing a magnificent work with the Small Town Inertia, and whose interview can be read here. Add Claire Martin, Abir ABdullah, Misha Domozhilov, Nazik Armenakyan or Pablo Bartholomew to name just few.

by Dorothea Lange

by Dorothea Lange

by Jacob Riis

by Jacob Riis

by Lewis Hine

by Lewis Hine

by Luc Delahaye

by Luc Delahaye

by Manuel Rivera-Ortiz

by Manuel Rivera-Ortiz

Lower West Side, by Milton Rogovin

Lower West Side, by Milton Rogovin

by ©Nazik Armenakyan

by ©Nazik Armenakyan

by ©Pablo Bartholomew

by ©Pablo Bartholomew

by ©Pablo Bartholomew

by ©Pablo Bartholomew

SMI 4 by ©JimAMortram

SMI 4 by ©JimAMortram

There is now a wonderful world of photographers being witness of what we don’t want to face: the invisible people next doors.
And I’m glad they are, and that they keep doing this world better by letting you know that we live in a real world.

by ©Nazik Armenakyan

by ©Nazik Armenakyan

 

text by ©Gonzalo Bénard for 2HeadS
Jan, 2013
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