Documentary Photography:
Shows To See This Season

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” These are the words of renowned American photojournalist Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), who is known for her powerful images that draw attention to the plight of people living during the Great Depression (1929-1939). Her comment could describe the medium as a whole, but it is particularly resonant when it comes to documentary photography. These records of the real world – from the realities of war to street scenes forever paused – stay with us long after we’ve left the gallery or closed the photo book. This is because they often bring us close to personal experiences and wider issues across the world as well as those much closer to home. It’s important to note the ethical problems and responsibilities of this style, such as the dynamic between the people behind and in front of the camera. Today, we bring you five show that prompt viewers to look at the world with fresh eyes. Embark on a visual journey from the roads of Chicago and New York City, as shot by Vivian Maier, to neighbourhoods in the North of England, as seen by Chris Killip and Graham Smith.

Lee Miller: Saint-Malo under Siege | Chapelle Saint Victoire | June 18 – September 29

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Siege of Saint-Malo, which took place during WWII in the French coastal city between Allied and German forces from 4 August to 2 September 1944. On 13 August 1944, Lee Miller (1907-1977) was sent by Vogue USA to report on the scene, making her the “the only photographer and reporter present under the fire.” She took over 300 pictures over five days, preserving a visual record of the brutal battle. Visitors will see work from one of the most important 20th century photojournalists in Lee Miller: Saint Malo Under Siege at Chapelle Saint Victoire, Saint Malo.

20 / 20: Chris Killip / Graham Smith | Martin Parr Foundation | Until 30 June

Martin Parr Foundation brings together Chris Killip (1946-2020) and Graham Smith’s (b. 1947) documentary photographs showing the North East of England between 1975 and 1987. This was a period when heavy industry was still thriving in the region, just before it’s unforeseen and devastating collapse. Communities from Skinningrove, Tyneside, Middlesbrough and Co Durham take the foreground, whilst evidence of the city’s industrial output dominate the skylines. 20/20 is an exhibition that surveys 40 pieces and is a testament to the enduring power of Killip and Smith’s work as well as their lifelong friendship.

Storyteller: Photography by Tim Hetherington | Imperial War Museums | Until 29 September

This Spring, Imperial War Museum opens its first exhibition dedicated to the filmmaker, humanitarian and photojournalist Tim Hetherington (1974-2011). More than 65 photographs are on display, alongside films and personal objects, including notable projects in Liberia (2003 – 2007), Afghanistan (2007 – 2008), and his final, unfinished project in Libya (2011). He took an unusually long-term approach to projects, returning to the same places over several months or years. The resulting work has a profoundly human focus, which is the result of the deep connections he formed with the people and communities that he pictured.

Rev(b)elada: Vivian Maier, Photographer | Franz Mayer Museum | Until 19 May

Rev(b)elada is the first exhibition of Vivian Maier’s (1926-2009) photography in Latin American. Maier was a key 20th century image-maker, known for her innovative picture-taking methods and shots of New York and Chicago from 1950 until the end of the 1980s. She is remembered as an icon of street photography and, today, her work also serves as a window into this time period as well as a record of rife socio-economic inequalities. Franz Mayer Museum spotlights an important but overlooked photographer by displaying more than 200 of her prints, selected from 100,000 negatives left behind from 50 years behind the camera.

Bert Hardy: Photojournalism in War and Peace | The Photographers’ Gallery | Until 2 June

The Photographers’ Gallery presents a retrospective of renowned photojournalist Bert Hardy (1913-1995), surveying his four-decade long career. It covers his early years as a news and sports photographer all the way through to serving as a combat cameraman and successful advertising entrepreneur. Known for his empathetic portrayal of everyday scenes of British life, Hardy’s work also revealed social conditions and working class lives in the post-war years. He said: “The ideal picture tells something of the essence of life. It sums up emotion, it holds the feeling of movement thereby implying the continuity of life.”

Image Credits:

  1. © Archives Lee Miller, Royaume-Uni 2024. David E. Scherman, Lee Miller et des enfants à Saint-Malo, août 1944.
  2. Blackhill, Consett, Co Durham. 1977 © Graham Smith, courtesy Augusta Edwards Fine Art.
  3. © IWM (DC 66178) The ‘Millennium Stars’: a football team comprising mainly of former combatants involved in the First Liberian Civil War. Liberia, 1999. On display in Storyteller: Photography by Tim Hetherington at IWM London (20 April to 29 September 2024).
  4. © Estate Vivian Maier, courtesy of the Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY.
  5. Robinson And Fans, 1951. Images provided by Getty Images Archive, home of the Picture Post collection, in support of Bert Hardy: Photojournalism in War and Peace.