We let politicians tell us blatant lies, with little or no objection because most prefer the entertaining gossip about reality shows. The so called politically active spoon feed each other meaningless statistics about polar ice caps, yet say nothing about the starving homeless in front of their very eyes. We have even created a generation of children spending their adolescence in the artificial environments of video games and the internet, literally coming of age in the electronic jungle of escapism.
Between Facebook status updates and the recent media coverage dedicated to Kanye West, its obvious that bullshit has taken over all available media. So Before I too become infected with the BS virus, I’d like to reflect upon a time when actual content mattered and people had the courage to create art that reflected reality. I call this era the dawn of photo journalism.
It started with Jacob Riis in 1890. A newspaper reporter who went deep down into the dangerous slums of New York City to photograph the wretched living conditions of city tenements. Which, in his day, consisted mostly of European immigrants and runaway slaves. Riis spent over one year photographing and writing about the reality of day to day life in the slums, providing the world with such an intimate view of urban poverty, that you could taste the tuberculosis on the breath of his subjects. So vivid were his photographs that when he published the collection, “How The Other Half Lives,” it triggered a chain of progressive legislation to improve living conditions. A little bit of content can go long way.
Mandatory windows had to be installed into apartments that had no source of light or fresh air, and legal limitations were put in place to govern the unlimited power of slum lords, (Just to name a few.) The list of positive change brought forth from Riis’s photography is actually much longer. And this all went down under the most corrupt city government New York has ever known, Tamany Hall. Now given the impact of his work, doesn’t today’s media seem totally useless?