The Farm Security Administration (FSA) promoted their photographic project largely by distributing the photographs through newspapers and magazines supported by editorials which “told the story” in a manner which became known as photojournalism.
Photographs had appeared in newspapers since the 1880s but the golden period for photojournalism was from the 1920s to the 1960s where publications such as the Picture Post, Sunday Times Magazine and the American magazine, Life used photographs to build their reputations on their ability to show their readers ‘the world as it was’. Photojournalism was built on the medium’s reputation for being completely factual and objective.
Editorial control was extremely significant in terms of commissioning particular stories and themes suiting the commercial, political and ideological goals and beliefs of the respective publications creating a compromise in objectivity and effectively ‘shaping the news’ and with it, public perception of the world. Ambitious photographers hungry for more interesting and dynamic subjects ‘to shoot’ began to reject the tight controls of their editors and sought greater levels of independence. Freelance photographers such as Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson began to travel and photograph the world.
One of the aesthetic influences of these mid 20th century photographers was the surrealist idea of ‘chance encounters’, but there were many instances where photographs such as Bill Brandt, Robert Doisneau and Weegee were involved in staged incidents. (Bull, 2009, p110)
One of the world’s most iconic photojournalistic images whose authenticity is challenged to this day, “After nearly three-quarters of a century Robert Capa’s “Falling Soldier” picture from the Spanish Civil War remains one of the most famous images of combat ever. It is also one of the most debated, with a long string of critics claiming that the photo, of a soldier seemingly at the moment of death, was faked. Now, a new book by a Spanish researcher asserts that the picture could not have been made where, when or how Capa’s admirers and heirs have claimed.” Rohter, L (2009) NY Times
Classic photojournalism began to fade as the readerships of these magazines and supplements began to diminish due largely to the growth in television, which had become a major medium for news reporting. New magazines and (newspaper) supplements developed but commercial and economic reasons dictated that these were advertising led and platforms to promote and sell goods not necessarily report the news. (Wells, 2009, p70-71)
Capa, R (1936) ‘shows the falling soldier in Life Magazine’. Image available online at
Faas, H (1965). US Army helicopters fire into the tree line in order to cover South Vietnamese troops as they advance on the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Image available online see
Capa, R (1936) ‘Falling Soldier’ image and quotation taken from
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/18/arts/design/18capa.html?_r=0 (accessed 7/02/2016)
Bull, S (2010). Photography. Abingdon: Routledge
Wells, L. (2009). Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th ed.) Abingdon: Routledge