Underexposed Photographers: Life Magazine and Photojournalists’ Social Status in the 1950s

Today, we are used to seeing documentary images by photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Doisneau as fine art prints in art museums and galleries. But most of these images were initially made for the magazine page where the photographer’s name often went unnoticed. The US-based illustrated weekly magazine Life was instrumental in the process of photographers gaining more recognition and global exposure. However, this process was neither smooth nor free of obstacles. 

This article aims to shed light on some of the obstacles that the photographers of the 1950s met in their way to reaching recognition as artists.

Find a famous, iconic photograph on this spread!  Life.  June 12, 1950.

Find a famous, iconic photograph on this spread! Life. June 12, 1950.

On the magazine page, the photographer was not yet presented as a great artist. The first spread of Robert Doisneau’s series on Parisian lovers in the June 12, 1950 issue of Life is a typical example. 

The Kiss by the Town Hall  by Robert Doisneau, 1950.

The Kiss by the Town Hall by Robert Doisneau, 1950.

Life was not directly concerned with changing the social status of photojournalists. But Life featured skillfully crafted and visually attractive photo essays, thus promoting the aesthetic appreciation of documentary image as such. By doing so, Life served as a catalyst for raising photographers’ self-awareness as creative individuals, artists even—something that was not yet taken for granted in the 1950s. But this was just the beginning of a long and laborious process.

Read the full article in FK Magazine!