Social photography is the photography of investigation and communication about social problems. The photographic tradition, which was mainly summarized in the 20th century under the term social documentarism (also known as “social photography”), is regularly dedicated to ‘social groups’ that have socio-economic and cultural similarities. Photojournalism, on the other hand, often takes part in social issues, but is not always to be understood as socially committed documentarism, since most of the corresponding reportages are likely to be due to one-off commissions.
Street photography is a genre designation of photography that encompasses numerous photographers and styles. In general, this refers to a photograph that is created in public space, looking into streets, shops or cafés, singling out groups of passers-by or individuals, often as a snapshot, but also as an essay-like sequence and milieu study.
Photographers are regularly motivated by living and/or working conditions as well as poverty that are perceived as shameful, disadvantageous, unjust or harmful. The examples are manifold: child labour, child neglect, hunger, homelessness, poverty of social classes, children and the elderly, working conditions in Brazilian gold mines, living in satellite towns, impoverished farmers, dangerous industrial working conditions, slave labour, politically destable or authoritarian regimes, etc.
The intentions of the photographic authors oscillate between emphatic documentation and a concrete indictment of social inequality. Despite all the differences in the handling of the camera, the images of these authors have one thing in common: the poor, outsiders and lower social classes are not portrayed as objects of exoticism, but in participatory observation. The photographers do not show poverty as a flaw, but as its dignity. They give back to the last members of society, those who appear in statistics only as an anonymous collective, their individual – often proudly elevated – face.
Social documentary photography is not an abstinent, sober factual recording of things, but it is trend photography. She deliberately wants to provoke, but with reality: the documentary power of images is linked to the desire for insight and political and social change.
To this day, social documentary photography is predominantly ‘black and white’. This is often due to aesthetic reasons, but on the other hand, the rather one-dimensional photographs appear more direct and impressive to many authors and viewers alike. The resulting photographs are always understood as a ‘group of works’ intended for ‘publication’. They require an explanatory text, or at least a title that names the concern or topic for classification and evaluation.
Social documentaries in the literal sense of the word are diverse documentaries from life in certain cities, landscapes or cultures. The examples are as diverse as the possibilities.