In the summer of 1975 I discovered a photography book that changed the way I viewed photography forever. I was 17 years old with an interest in photography but with no real idea of just how powerful it could be as a means to change people’s understanding of the world. One day, no doubt driven out of boredom (this being the pre-Internet age after all), whilst browsing in my local library I discovered a book called The Concerned Photographer 2 which was edited by the American photographer Cornell Capa, brother of Robert Capa, the war photographer famous for his haunting, grainy black and white images of the D-Day Landings. Robert Capa, together with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Chim Seymour and George Rodger went on to found the photographers’ co-operative Magnum Photos which Cornell became president of in 1956 when he began work on the original anthology which emerged as The Concerned Photographer in 1968.
The book features the images of eight legends of 20th century photography: Marc Riboud, Roman Vishniac, Bruce Davidson, Gordon Parks, Ernst Haas, Hiroshi Hamaya, Donald McCullin and W. Eugene Smith. Each of these photographers alone could fill a book, or more, with their work (as many of them have) but to see the work of these great photographers together, in one volume, is a rare treat indeed. The book was published in 1972 when the documentary photography that it portrays still had an important platform through traditional print media and indeed when many of the photographers were at their most productive and creating some of their best work.
It’s hard to believe that anyone looking at this book could fail to be moved by the concerns raised in these images, and the photographers that created them. Don McCullin’s photographs of starving and skeletal Biafran children, Gordon Parks’ coverage of the Black Revolution of the 1960’s and Bruce Davidson’s images documenting the lonely, disinherited and disenfranchised of the world remind us of a world we would have hoped by now we had moved on from and yet, as we have seen this year alone, sadly still exist.
Now of course the world has moved on in other ways too. Today we are bombarded with images like those in The Concerned Photographer from everywhere. We are indeed overwhelmed by a deluge of such photographs. So much so that we barely have time to give them a second glance before we tap or swipe them away to go on to the next one, and the next one and the one after that.
All the more reason then to value a book like The Concerned Photographer. Created at a time when the making of such images counted for something and when we thought that by exposing the world to what they showed, it might make a difference. Maybe we were being naive or misguided but I’d like to think that even today, in a time of image overload, there is still a place for photographs like these and we still respect (and will continue to fund) the photographers that create them.
The book is now sadly out of print however it is still possible to pick up second hand copies from companies like Abe Books. If you are even remotely interested in the type of documentary photography contained in this book and want to see the work of these great photographers together in one volume I’d recommend you try to get hold of a this great book. Here are a few images from my copy to whet your appetite.