Does Documentary Photography always depict the truth?

We were asked to write a 200-300 word reflection answering,

Does Documentary Photography always depict the truth? 

When photographing documentary images, I believe images can portray both the truth and false interpretations of what happened at a particular time. I feel that powerful images that are often taken at some sort of natural disaster or at war convey more truth than other images taken at a less serious moment. Examples of my theory are images taken by American photographer and socialist, Lewis Hine.


He photographed life in the early 1900’s, documenting children at work and the working/living conditions at that time. If it wasn’t for his honest images that captured the truth behind the horrendous working conditions with children at a mere age of 4 years old working in mines, the child labour laws in the United States might not have changed. Arguing against that, some images do not always depict the truth. An image taken by Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression is captioned, ‘Mother and baby of family on the road. Tulelake, Siskiyou County, California. 1939.’ The image portrays both mother and child to be affected by poverty extremely, due to the dirt and lack of hygiene and upset facial expressions, leaving the viewer upset and sympathetic towards both mother and child.


However, in other images Dorothea Lange took later that same day showed the mother and child to be happy, with washed faces. This makes you wonder, is that the same upset child and grief-stricken mother? How much truth was there in that image?




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