A Timeline of Social Documentary Practice
 1889 | 1890 | 1891 | 1892 | 1893 | 1895 | 1897 | 1898 | 1899 | 1900 | 1903 | 1904 | 1908 | 1909 | 1911 | 1913 | 1914 | 1919-35 | 1936-41 


The Kodak Camera

The first Kodak handheld camera sold for $25, equivalent to $500 in modern currency.

Frederick Ives

First cross-lined halftone screen making the reproduction of photographs practical.

Art for Industry’s Sake

Edward Bellamy

Looking Backward from 2000 to 1887

National Geographic Society

"The membership of our Society will not be confined to professional geographers, but will include that large number who, like myself, desire to promote special researches by others, and to diffuse the knowledge so gained, among men, so that we may all know more of the world upon which we live."

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Josephine Shaw Lowell

A Social Work History Station

George Eastman holding a Kodak #2

John Brisben Walker

Buys Cosmopolitan magazine.

Walker increases its circulation from 16,000 to 400,000 in five years.

Josephine Shaw Lowell

Founds the New York Charities Organization Society (COS). Charity societies are based in mediated intervention, with direct relief as a last resort.

Jane Addams

Founds Hull-House, an infamous settlement (commons) house. The Settlement house approach was to equalize poverty through direct relief in the form of education and opportunity.

American Ethical Union

Was founded, joining together Ethical Culture Societies in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Thomas Henry Huxley

"Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, 'Try all things, hold fast by that which is good' . . . it is the fundamental axiom of modern science."

Kodak #2, #3, and #4 introduced

Along with the first transparent flexible film stocks, making motion pictures possible. Photography was still out of reach of most people, because the new models sold from $32-$50.

Edward W. Bok

Becomes editor of Ladie's Home Journal, a magazine well established with advertisers and reader boasting a circulation of 440,000.

Bok builds on the success of Mrs. Cyrus Curtis, the editor from 1883-9. Writing under the pen-name Ruth Ashmore, Bok starts a department called "Side Talks With Girls" which brought in over 158,000 letters in the next sixteen years. This marked a move from sentimentality, moralizing and piety making the magazine keyed to tastes and practical problems.

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Jacob Riis
William James

Principles of Psychology

Sherman Anti-Trust Act

First legislation in America to control monopolies

Jacob Riis

How the Other Half Lives

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The elements of the conflict now raging are unmistakable, in the vast expansion of industrial pursuits and the marvellous discoveries of science; in the changed relations between masters and workmen; in the enormous fortunes of some few individuals, and the utter poverty of the masses;the increased self reliance and closer mutual combination of the working classes; as also, finally, in the prevailing moral degeneracy.

The momentous gravity of the state of things now obtaining fills every mind with painful apprehension; wise men are discussing it; practical men are proposing schemes; popular meetings, legislatures, and rulers of nations are all busied with it - actually there is no question which has taken deeper hold on the public mind.


New York Charity Organization Society

Founds the journal Charities Review

The Erfurt Program

German Social Democratic Party promotes a platform of class equality.

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Day's Work is Done by Henry Peach Robinson, 1877

Populist Party formed

Henry Peach Robinson

Founds the Linked Ring

"No possible amount of scientific truth will in itself make a picture. Something more is required. The truth that is wanted is artistic truth -quite a different thing. Artistic truth is a conventional representation that looks like truth when we have been educated up to accepting it as a substitute for truth."

Paradoxes of Art, Science, and Photography

Arnold Genthe

Deutsches Slang eine sammlung familiärer Ausdrücke und Redensarten

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Montana Exhibit

McClure's Magazine

Begins publication

Jacob Riis

Children of the Poor

Financial Panic of 1893

Major economic failure, the worst nationwide depression since the revolutionary war, which resulted in an atmosphere conducive to reform proposals.

AP Wire Reports

1893 Columbian Exhibition

The American Arts and Crafts Movement

Traces its beginnings to the Columbian Exhibition

Clarence H. White

Visits the Columbian Exhibition.

Munsey's Magazine

Slashes its price from 25 cents to 10 cents triggering a magazine price war. Production costs of magazines shift from low-volume to high-volume through the subsidy of advertising. According to William Allen White:

"Frank Munsey contributed to the journalism of his day the talent of a meat packer, the morals of a money changer and the manner of an undertaker. He and his kind have succeded in transforming a once noble profession into an 8 percent security. May he rest in trust."

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Pope Leo XIII filmed by American Mutoscope and Biograph Company

Munsey's Magazine

Circulation reaches 500,000

Gustave Le Bon

The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind

“History can only be clearly understood if we bear in mind that that the morale and the conduct of the isolated man are very different to those of the same man when he has become part of a collectivity.”

American Mutoscope and Biograph Company

First American Motion Picture Company

Arnold Genthe

Moves to San Francisco

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WEB Dubois

Participates in a social survey project, THE PHILADELPHIA NEGRO: A Social Study, the first study to document the plight of urban African Americans.

Edward T. Devine

Launches a second magazine for the New York COS, Charities

Cyrus Curtis

Buys the Saturday Evening Post

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Nasutoeas, Kichai Woman (Wichita)Front by F.A. Reinhart, 1898
Trans-Mississippi Exposition

Includes mock Native American villages. Extensively documented by F.A. Reinhart.

Jacob Riis

Out of Mulberry Street:
Stories of Tenement Life in New York City

Spanish-American War
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P.H. Emerson, --Pictures of East Anglian Life.-- 1888


Spends more than $750,000 on advertizing.

Arthur Symons

The Symbolist Movement in Literature

Peter Henry Emerson

Naturalistic Photography

"Since all mental progress consists, as Mr. Herbert Spencer has shown, for the most part in differentiation-that is in the analysis of an unknown complex into known components-surely it were a folly to confuse any longer the aims of Science and Art. Rather should we endeavor to draw an indelible line of demarcation between them . . ."

Edwin Markham

Publishes "The Man with the Hoe" in McClure's Magazine sparking social controversy.

Rudyard Kipling

Publishes "The White Man's Burden" shortly afterward to even greater controversy.

Bernarr MacFadden

Begins publishing Physical Culture magazine.

Its slogan was "Weakness is a Crime: Don't be a Criminal." It fought the terrible evils of prudery, corsets, muscular inactivity, gluttony, drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

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Pencil Sketch of Alvin Langdon Coburn by Edward Steichen, 1901
Alvin Langdon Coburn

Exhibits at the Royal Photographic Society

The exhibit contains 104 photographs by F. Holland Day, 21 by Edward Steichen, and 9 by Coburn. Also exhibits with the Linked Ring and meets Fredrick H. Evans.

Ladies Home Journal

Approaches a circulation of 1 million.

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Alfred Steiglitz and Kitty — by Edward Steichen
Camera Work

Founded by Alfred Steiglitz, begins publishing.

Arthur Symons


Alvin Langdon Coburn

One man show, Camera Club of New York

Works with Gertrude Käsebier

Elected to the Linked Ring

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Henri Cartier-Bresson

Born August 22.

Lewis Hine

Begins working for Charities and Commons, a social work magazine published by Paul Kellogg. Also begins working for the National Child Labor Committee (1908-1912).

Walter Rauschenbusch

Formulates the principles of the "Social Gospel" movement.

Arnold Genthe

Pictures of Old Chinatown

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from London
Alvin Langdon Coburn

Publishes London, first in a projected series The Adventures of Cities, on London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburg, Paris, Pittsburg, New York, and Boston.

Perhaps based in Arthur Symons 1903 Cities. Symons felt that "cities had a character like people and that profound imaginative insight was needed to appreciate them" (Weaver 33).

The trend for guidebooks and books focusing on cities in the ensuing decades seems deeply related.

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from the Poiret Fashions photographed for Art et Décoration, Paris, April 1911

Arnold Genthe

Relocates his studio to New York

Edward Steichen

First fashion photographs published in an extensive 13 photograph layout.

"Urged by Lucien Vogel to make fashion a fine art through photography . . . My first contribution to fashion photography was to make it look as realistic as possible. I felt like a woman, when she looked at a picture of a gown, should be able to form a very good idea of how that gown was put together and what it looked like" (Steichen )

Alvin Langdon Coburn

Illustrates The Door in the Wall and other stories by H.G. Wells, published by Goudy's Village Press by M. Kennerly in New York using tipped-in photogravures.

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William Butler Yeats from Men of Mark

Arnold Genthe

Old Chinatown A Book of Pictures

An expanded edition of the Chinatown photos. Illustrates several other books for M. Kennerly from 1913-1916.

Alvin Langdon Coburn

Publishes Men of Mark in London.

33 portraits including Coburn himself, Ezra Pound, Thomas Hardy, Frank Harris, Edmund Dulac, Maurice Maeterlinck, Wyndham Lewis, Joseph Conrad with 23 pages of text.

Republished in the US in 1922 by M. Kennerly

Photography is the most modern of the arts, its development and practical usefulness extends back only into the memory of living men; in fact, it is more suited to the art requirements of this age of scientific achievement than any other.

It is, however, only by comparing it with the older art of painting that we will get the full value of our argument plainly before us; and in doing so we shall find that the essential difference is not so much a mechanical one of brushes and pigments as compared with a lens and dry plates, but rather a mental one of a slow, gradual, usual building up, as compared with an instantaneous, concentrated mental impulse, followed by a longer period of fruition.

Coburn, Camera Work, No. 36.

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Isadora Duncan by Arnold Genthe
Arnold Genthe

Hires Dorothea Lange

Lange was attending the New York School Training School for Teachers and working part time at various photography studios.

Impressed by Genthe's photographs of Isadora Duncan, and applied for a job at his Fifth Avenue studio. She was the youngest of three women on the staff and worked as a receptionist, making proofs, spotting, retouching, and mounting prints.

Genthe gave her her first camera and offered critical evaluation of her work for the next year or so. Lange quit teacher-training school.

World War I Begins


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