"Underexposed Photographers: Life Magazine and Photojournalists’ Social Status in the 1950s," FK Magazine, November 23, 2017. Download as pdf.
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.
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.
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.