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It is interesting that Dyer (2007:6) quotes Dorothea Lange as believing that ‘to know ahead of time what you’re looking for means you’re then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting’, and further that ‘As far as she [Lange] was concerned it was fine for a photographer to work ‘completely without plan’ and just photograph ‘that to which he instinctively responds’’. However, this ‘instinctive response’ may be (either consciously or subconsciously) at the service of an ideological viewpoint. Rosler (1981:304) makes this point in the case of Jacob Riis (b. 1849) who sought to alleviate the desperate plight of  New York city’s poor and destitute immigrants in the early 20th century; the manner of this attempt was to use photography to bring their plight to the attention of the privileged within the society of the time. This effort to initiate social reform had a humanitarian element to it but also it served to show the wealthy and socially powerful that their own self-interest – the avoidance of crime, disease, and crucially, political radicalism – lay in bringing about change even if this meant giving up a little of their wealth and privilege. Thus, Rosler concludes ‘Documentary photography has been much more comfortable in the company of moralism than wedded to a rhetoric or program of revolutionary politics’


Dyer, G (2007) The Ongoing Moment. London: Vintage

Rosler, M (1981) ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts (on documentary photography)’ In: Bolton, R. (ed.) The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press pp. 303-340