Death of a soldier, Spain 1936
gelatin silver photograph
17.3 x 23.9 cm (image) 20.6 x 25.4 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
After Image: Social Documentary Photography in the 20th century brings together a selection of thirty-eight images by American, Australian, British, European and South African photographers active from the 1870s to the early 1980s. Each of the photographs presented in this exhibition possess a memorable quality, something thought-provoking that lingers in our consciousness.
Memorable photographs were the life-blood of the picture magazines, whose heyday was from the 1920s to the 1950s. On the world stage, during the global conflicts that raged during the twentieth century, photographs in print, hurriedly dispatched from battlefields and diplomatic meetings, were the one of the most important means by which people around the world could see what was happening. And, in the domestic arena, social documentary photographers of the twentieth century turned their cameras on familiar subjects. Often their photographs revealed incongruous juxtapositions that perhaps we don't notice simply because they are so familiar, in other instances they recorded disappearing aspects of a changing world.
The work of social documentary photographers has enhanced our understanding of who we are. With the passage of time, once contemporary photographs of people and places become the vital traces of lives lived and events enacted. It is through the capacity of photographs, like those included in this exhibition, to stay in our mind's eye that we can see the best, the worst and the most ordinary aspects of ourselves.