Curtis, James. “Early Documentary Photography.” History Matters. Visible Knowledge Project, n.d. Web. 18 July 2016.  <;

  • The 1st photographic process in America was the daguerreotype (named after Louis Daguerre, the inventor). It was an elaborate and long process to prepare and take a daguerreotype; subjects were required to sit still for several minutes for an exposure, so photographers rarely left their studios. (18 July 2016)
  • The 1st daguerreotypes were hard to circulate, so usually an artist would draw the print on a lithograph for reproduction. (18 July  2016)
  • Because of the fascination with photography, many experiments were done to improve the quality and eventually, ambrotypes and tintypes allowed for easier reproduction of photographs by using negatives. (18 July 2016)
  • By the Civil War, photography had become more accessible to the middle class because of advancements in technology, and so documentary was borne out a desire to document the war.  (18 July 2016)
  • After the Civil War, documentary photography became a tool to create social reform (something it is still used for today) in cities – perhaps because of the desire for reform, spurred by the beginnings of the Progressive movement. (18 July 2016)
  • Two leading early documentary photographers were Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine who photographed the unpleasant parts of New York City. They began the use of photography for social change. Because of the invention of the halftone and other processes. Photographs could now easily be printed magazines and newspapers. (18 July 2016)
  • Jacob Riis was a Danish immigrant and a police reporter who photographed tenements in the Lower East side of Manhattan in the late 19th century. (18 July 2016)
  • Lewis Hine photographed working conditions of both men and women and child laborers. (18 July 2016)
  • Social documentary photography changed the way many people thought of photography, because previous to Riis and Hine city photographs were of the architecture or commerce, not of the slums. (18 July 2016)
  • Social documentary had another big wave in the Great Depression, where the Farm Security Administration, headed by Roy E. Stryker, paid photographers to document the impact of the Great Depression, especially in rural America. (18 July 2016)