A new book examines the ways that photography has been a major influence on British identity

What exactly is documentary photography? It is believed that it’s inherently straight photography. The photographer is observing and reporting on things, thereby creating an account of society. Many photographers speak about the community they work in and create images similar to film directors, and even make collages using photographs.

Lewis Balts said photography was an ‘intense, but narrow space between film and novel.’ In this way, one can accept an expanded definition of documentary, seeing it as a way of thinking, which is a desire to talk about the social aspects of life instead of a particular style as it is.

British photography during the 1940s was evidently different from what we see today. It was often viewed as a ‘trade’ rather than an art.

Photography for Art was the sole club of photographers and professionals who were working to get their images printed in illustrated magazines and journals, the most famous of which in the 60s was Picture Post, edited by Tom Hopkinson and employing such photographers as Bert Hardy, Thurston Hopkins as well as Grace Robertson. The magazine was shut down in the year 1957. Following a short hiatus, it was replaced by the additional publications of more serious Sunday papers such as The Times, Observer, and Telegraph.

David Bailey, Brian Duffy, Brian Duffy, and David Bailey Terence Donovan became the star photographers in the fashion and commercial worlds, particularly representing people from working-class backgrounds, replacing upper-middle-class models such as Cecil Beaton.

In the field of reportage photography, David Hurn, Phillip Jones-Griffiths, and Ian Berry became members of Magnum, the most prestigious agency in the world, and together with other notables such as John Bulmer, Patrick Ward Don McCullin, working for Sunday supplement, helped to give British photography more recognition globally.

In the late sixties, a new ethos infiltrated British photography. It was the concept of the independent photographer, who was largely against commercial photography and making use of the medium for artistic self-expression, a full-fledged art form.

The latter half of the sixties was a period of political activism as manifested in the critique in the seventies. The photographers who were politically conscious gravitated to photography at the Half Moon Gallery and collective in Whitechapel, the journal of its critical critics. Camerawork is the exact opposite of Alfred Stiegiltz’s late twentieth-century photography journal, which was named Camerawork. It was a critique of the symbolic aspect of photography and the best way to use it for more progressive goals.

The Half Moon photographers, amongst them Paul Trevor, Chris Steele-Perkins, Mike Abrahams, and Robert Golden, documented the protests and social conditions of the seventies; however, the Whitechapel Hotspot for political documentary was also important for a second reason.

Inspired by the feminist movement and the years of neglect from the photography established, an entirely new generation of female photographers set up their organizations. It provided an authoritative and needed presence for British photography.

Britain has always produced excellent women photographers. Anna Atkins made the first photobook. Julia Margaret Cameron was arguably one of the best portraitists of the 19th century, and Tudor Hart, Grace Robertson, Jane Bown, Lee Miller, and Shirley Baker did significant work. However, the 1970s were the first time an entire group of female photographers contributed to a common cause. Some notable names from the 1970s include Sirkka-Liisa Kottinen, Marketa Luskacova, and Tish Murtha.

The photographers of the Seventies were frequently coordinated both in a literal as well as a psychological sense. For instance, members of the Hackney Flashers Group, which comprised Jo Spence, Maggie Murray, and Sally Greenhill, worked to increase awareness about the issues facing women. The group’s efforts culminated in the Who’s Holding the Baby exhibition in 1978, which was exhibited in various venues throughout 1979.

In their work, they questioned what could be demonstrated by traditional documentary photography. They also tried to go beyond the genre’s boundaries through the use of strategies like the collage technique or staging.

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