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20th Century Photography: Documentary Art

With the advancement of photography throughout the early 19th century, opportunities arose more frequently for photographers; both amateur and professional, to shoot what they saw fit. Very frequently, humans were the subjects of early daguerreotypes, and later dry-plates, for a number of different reasons. A daguerreotype held a special sentiment with people who viewed them, and it was a popularly held consensus that photographs literally held onto and saved the very essence of a loved one after their death. Though, today we know these perceptions to be false, it can be understood why such importance was put into the photography of humans; they captured emotion and publicized hardships like poverty and filth in urban centers. As previously mentioned, however, the vast majority of photographs were being taken of people, followed by landscape and artistic shots. One important facet of photography that didn’t gain favorability until the 20th century was portraiture of structures and buildings. Dull as it may initially seem, the photography of structures provides input for both the artistic and documentary styles of photography and allows future generations to catch a glimpse of the major architectural styles and realize a portion of life that previously existed.

As the photography of structures became more popular, several names emerged that would eventually be considered as the best architectural photographers; among these photographers are Walker Evans in the early 20th century, and Richard Nickel and Ron Gordon during the later 20th century. Each of these photographers, though all shooting buildings and architecture, have flares that could in some cases be considered art photography instead of plain documentation of the progr...

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Cahan, Richard, Michael Williams, and Richard Nickel. Richard Nickel's Chicago: Photographs of a Lost City. Chicago: Cityfiles, 2006. Print.
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