Chris Johnson's Gallery of Documentary Photography
Created and Curated by Chris Johnson

An Obligation to Truth

Not long ago, documentary photography was the dominant instrument for social change in a culture desperately needing to know itself and mobilize its moral and political will to address injustice.

· In 1890 Jacob A. Riis published a book titled How the Other Half Lives ,using then primitive halftone reproduction techniques (nineteen of the images were actually drawings), to create a document that revealed the miseries imposed on the poor by an uncaring municipal government. These harsh and poignant flash photographs, together with his biting prose helped rid New York of some its worst slums. A housing development in Brooklyn is now dedicated to his name.

· Lewis Hine, trained as a sociologist, began photographing in 1905 and produced a series of seminal "photo stories" documenting the exploitation of children in factories throughout the South and Northeast. His work led to the passage of landmark child labor laws that are still in force.

Many more examples could be cited: the Farm Security Administration and its use of documentary photographs to support New Deal social legislation; the impact of photography, both still and moving, on the Vietnam War protests and the Civil Rights Movement; and more recently, the ability of moving news photographs to mobilize world-wide hunger relief programs.

These photographers were motivated by an obligation to truth, and the belief that average Americans would respond humanely if shown the effects of injustice.

The world is more fragmented than ever before and there are thousands of talented, passionate photographers working to maintain the link between photography and social reform. Unfortunately, to a large extent the public tolerance for this work has been diluted by media establishments that "..corrupt messages, cultivate sensationalism, hold ideas in contempt, practice hidden censorship, inundate us with trivial news, and cause genuine information to vanish", to quote Octavio Paz.

And yet, the impact of the documentary form can still be demonstrated. In photography, "Tulsa" by Larry Clark and "Ballad of Sexual Dependency" by Nan Goldin, and in film, "Hoop Dreams" and "The Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter", all represent a distinct approach to documentary image-making that places the emphasis on the direct telling of the meaningful realities immanent in any human life. These works are powerful, popular and have been critically acclaimed.

This site is committed to the support of documentary photographers and their work. My Gallery of Documentary Photography will use the unique capabilities of this new medium to provide high-quality documentary photographic projects with sophisticated curatorial and research support and instant and efficient world-wide exposure.