Ahead of a new exhibition bringing together the work of Diane Arbus, Bruce Davidson, and many more, Alex Webb, whose work is also featured in the show, reflects on the medium’s capacity to communicate the emotional impact of people, places, and events.
The documentary photograph, both art and artefact, occupies a singular place in the historical record. It acts as testimony, bearing witness to those whose voices might otherwise go unheard, and it can be used as a form of activism to change the world.
A new exhibition, For the Record, brings together the work of some 35 photographers whose innovative approaches have redefined not just the genre but also the medium writ large. From Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York to Danny Lyon’s Bikeriders, to Larry Clark’s Tulsa, and Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gang, the exhibition chronicles the role of documentary photography in shaping the way we see and think about the times in which we live.
By combining classical and contemporary approaches, the exhibition explores the ever-evolving language of photography and the ways in which it simultaneous straddles the realms of reportage and fine art. As 17th-century clergyman Thomas Fuller famously said, “Seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth” — a sentiment that captures documentary photography’s extraordinary ability to communicate the emotional impact of people, places, and events.