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[[image - photograph]]
DUST STORM (1936) 
OKLAHOMA
CIMAROON COUNTY
ARTHUR ROTHSTEIN
Reproduced through the courtesy of the Farm Security Administration.

ing, because in this field the definition has been made articulate, and because I believe that the present popularity of the word to describe a class of still pictures has been inspired by the example of the cinema. But there is a profound difference between still and motion-picture photography. The former is primarily a spatial art; the latter a temporal one. The film is always seen as a unit; the sequence of images is prescribed, and remains uniform except for wilful [[willful]] cutting by exhibitors for moral or economic reasons. The still photograph, however, is seldom seen twice in the similar manner. It may be reproduced together with any other photograph, and with any caption. Therefore, while there is a unity of spirit between still and cinematic documentary, their approaches to the same problem must be through separate channels.

It is undeniable that the documentary method, as opposed to the abstract desire to produce Fine Art, has resulted in significant photographic art. The work of photographers who have attempted to interpret subject-matter has usually been superior to the work of photographers who have deliberately set out to rival or equal the painter. There are, of course, brilliant exceptions to this observation. But let us examine other cases than Le Secq's.

In his catalog of Civil War photographs, Matthew B. Brady states that the photographs "represent 'grim-visaged war' exactly as it appeared," and makes no further claim. Yet these pictures of the wrack and ruin of human bodies and nature and man's creations, these penetrating portraits of the men who planned and fought and died for the Union and for the Confederacy have more esthetic content than the compositions, lighted à la Rembrandt, which are signed "Adam Salomon, sculpteur," or the anecdotal composite prints of H.P. Robinson, often called the father of pictorialism. 

Filed away as records of explorations in the archives of the U.S. Geological Survey are photographs of the canyons that have seldom been equalled [[equaled]]. To find the finest rendering of the infinite perspectives of the great plains of the Middle West, one must turn to the stereographs by Alexander Gardner documenting the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Hundreds of thousands of photographs of Paris must have been taken in the last hundred years, but to experience esthetically the face of that great city, fairly to breathe at will its atmosphere, we consult the work of two photographers who would be called "documentary" today: Charles Marville, who recorded for the state certain condemned quarters before their destruction at Napoleon III's command; and Eugène Atget, who at the turn of the century trained his camera on every conceivable detail of his beloved city. 

More recently, the photographs of child labor conditions in this country, taken shortly before the war by Mr. Lewis Hine for sociological propaganda, must be considered portraits, poignant in their stark and direct seizure of the emotions of both photographer and subjects. 

Within the last decade a number of younger photographers, sensing the artistic strength of such photographic documents as these, have seen in this materialistic approach the basis for an esthetic of photography. To Berenice Abbot, now engaged in a courageous and sweeping documentation of New York City, we owe our knowledge of Atget and his work; she acquired almost his entire collection of negatives after his death in 1927. Walker Evans, Ralph Steiner, Margaret Bourke-White in the East — Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke in the West — together with others have produced simple, straightforward photographs of great technical excellence interpreting not only the world nearest to them, but also its social significance. Up to a few years ago this work has lacked organization; although widely imitated, no school was formed. With the formation of the photographic section of the Farm Security Administration (then known as the Resettlement Administration) in 1935 an important center was established. Roy E. Stryker, Chief of the Historical Division of the F.S.A., conceived the idea of a photographic survey of agricultural America; Walker Evans was among the first photographers commissioned to undertake this work. Largely through his example and through the extraordinarily fine miniature camera shots of Ben Shahn, a direction was given to the project; a technical and an esthetic standard was raised which the other photographers in the project have maintained. Never losing sight of the primary sociological purpose of their survey,

FOUR
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