By Saranne Lewis
While exhibiting photographs taken from the 1840s to the present day, Rich Remberg, a nationally renowned documentary photographer spoke on the history of ethnographic and documentary photography in the Harold B. Lee Library, Thursday, July 15.
Remberg described ethnographic photography as the history of people in their cultural backgrounds.
“I think it has to do with telling stories about people without lying, being faithful to the spirit in which their lives are lived,” he said.
Remberg continued with an explanation of documentary photography, which he said was very similar to ethnographic.
“It”s a meeting ground between journalism and fine art photography – that”s one way to think of it,” he said. “And sometimes it leans more toward one than the other, but it”s faithful to both.”
Throughout the slide show, Remberg mentioned many famous photographers, from Matthew Brady to Jacob Reese, the man who wrote “How the Other Half Lives” and greatly influenced society through his historical portrayal of America”s destitute.
Early photographs took a long time to take, so those in the picture usually had to pose for long periods of time, Remberg said. This however does not take away from the historical impact, he said.
“Although they”re posed, and formal, and commercial, I still think you get some sense of what culture was like at that time, if for no other reason than you see how they view themselves,” he said.
Remberg also said the human connection of photographs that were taken during wartime or in the slums of some of the large cities in America – places where the people were struggling.
“It was a tough photograph,” he said. “A photograph that was tough to make, tough to understand, tough to like, but at the same time, it was beautiful, too.”
Projects like the ones that are housed in BYU”s special collections are not always easy to make, and necessitate an emotional attachment to subjects, Remberg said.
“To do something well and to do something deeply requires a kind of selfishness,” he said.
While many of the lecture attendees were visitors, some students also went because of their interest in the subject.
Jana Lloyd, 24, a graduate student in English from Sequim, Wash., said she went because her roommate told her about it and she loves photography.
“This was really interesting to me,” she said. “Also, I didn”t realize that special collections had such a wide selection of photographs.”
“I think it”s a genre or style that speaks to the emotional truth as well as literal truth,” Remberg said of documentary photography. “When you look at these pictures, you don”t just get biographical information or cultural information . . . but you should have an emotional response.”
The lecture was a part of “The Fruit of Their Labors,” a field school for cultural denomination sponsored jointly by both BYU and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, which will continue through July 31.