Glenn Ruga, the director of SocialDocumentary.net, spoke about photography during a conference examining the coverage of trauma held at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism in February 2009. In explaining how his Web site is used by photojournalists today, he traveled back in time to offer an abbreviated history of documentary photography and how its practitioners used imagery to inform people about events they couldn’t see for themselves. He spoke, too, about the impact their photography had in inspiring change. Edited excerpts from his talk follow, alongside photographs he used to illustrate his points:
These examples just skim the surface of the rich history of documentary photography and its uses. In the world of human rights, there are perpetrators and survivors, there are journalists who inform us about these violations, researchers who give us data and analysis, advocates who work for policy change to prevent violations and support the victims. There are artists, filmmakers and writers who document and help us understand the abusers and the abused; there are lawyers, judges and lawmakers who provide the legal context. And there are photographers who document the abuses, honor the victims, and tell their stories of abuse, survival and justice.