10 Socially Engaged Photographs

Chien-Chi Chang, Immigrants sleeping on the fire escape of a building to escape the heat wave. New York City, USA. 1998

Social photography disturbs, influences and questions the viewer. These photographs leave the viewer free to interpret.  Social photography captures, shows and points for a moment silently yet peacefully to convey a powerful message.

Many photographers travel daily to corners of the earth where poverty, social inequality and violence interrupt the daily lives of some. We have selected 10 socially significant modern iconic photographsfor you.

JR, 28 Millimeters, Women Are Heroes, Action in Phnom Penh, Peng Panh, Cambodia, 2009

French street artist and dedicated photographer JR grew up in the suburbs of Paris. The street became a means of expression and a favorite platform for the artist. His exceptional artistic style lies in the monumental size of his anonymous black and white modern iconic photographs.

Displayed on city rooftops, in slums, or on the walls of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, these faces are exposed and forced upon us.

His modern iconic photographs address current political and social issues, they also question the notion of identity, the true thread of JR’s work.

Leila Alaoui

Photographer Leila Alawi captured the moment behind a fence of iron bars. Here she seeks to divide and confront two alien worlds. The first is the Western world, rich, free and possessive, but passive. The second is the one in which this child lives, the daily life of suffering, loneliness, deprivation. As if a child is trapped in this arid land, devoid of life and hope. The configuration chosen by the photographer confronts us with the loneliness of this child, but also imposes a distance, a symbol of our inability to intervene.

According to Leila Alaoui (1982-2016) social photography can carry a strong message. It is a message that should ask questions and reflect our society in the most authentic way. Her work is mainly based on various social topics.

Pierrot Men, Brick Series, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar, 2016

The elements that immediately catch the eye in this social photography are the solidarity, unity, but above all the dignity of these two men who, despite the storm, continue to work. Here the photographer embodies the reporter, who carefully observes the gestures of these men, as if captured by the authenticity and beauty of the moment.

Madagascar, the birthplace of photographer Chang Hong Men, known as Pierrot Men, is a breeding ground for him that nourishes much of his work. Pierrot Men’s works are a perfect coexistence between social photography journalism and the author’s photographs.

Taysir Batniji, Untitled (Walls of Gaza), 2001, series of 57 color photographs

Taysir Batniji is a French-Palestinian photographer. Being in this geographical middle, he draws inspiration from his subjective history. His work reveals with fragility and poetry the painful history in which his country, Palestine, has plunged. This “Wall of Gaza” photography series, which he started in 2001, points to the “double disappearance” phenomenon: the disappearance of men and the disappearance of memory.

Samuel Cueto, Dreamer, 2018

Samuel Cueto, is a street portraitist. Samuel Cueto’ modern iconic photographs bear witness to the situation of those left behind. The invisible ones who live far from everything, far from the city, far from hope. Coming from the working-class neighborhoods of this “forgotten” France, Samuel Cueto lets the autobiographical touch shine through in his work, but also renders it a corrupted and genuine phenomenon that no one else seems to pay attention to in meetings.

Carolyn Drake, Volunteer brings a cart to the 99-cent store parking lot on Sonoma Blvd

North American photographer Caroline Drake has always been fascinated by the concept of community. By using her camera to study the interdependencies that govern a group of people, she has learned to analyze their interactions, as well as the connections and barriers that can unite and divide people or places.

Newsha Tavakolian, Tehran, Iran

Newsha Tavakolian, an Iranian photographer, is known for her photojournalistic work and social photography. She has covered the struggle led by women in the guerrillas in Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, and Colombia, as well as the religious, social, and political issues in these countries. She turned to social photography as an art form, in order to give a voice to people who are deprived of their most basic human rights.

Diane Arbus, Girl in a Swimming Cap, 1990

The American photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971) drew up the true contemporary anthropology of our society. She photographed strangers she met at random in the streets of New York. Among them, people intellectually disabled, trans-sexuals, people with dwarfism, twins, transvestites, and all these subjects considered as “fairground phenomena”. Through social photography, she seeks to make us accept differences.

Sim Chi Yin, Chinese vacationers from all walks of life crowd into the wave pool at Chongqing Caribbean Water Park

Sim Chi Yin is a world-renowned Chinese artist, her work juggles between a documentary approach to society and an intimate narrative. Her documentation of the culture of the beach and vacations in China is a mise en abyme of today’s Chinese society.

Jerome Liebling, Butterfly boy, New York City, 1949

Jerome Liebling (1924-2011), an American photographer, filmmaker, and teacher, grew up in poverty in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. He witnessed the atrocities of the Great Patriotic War. For Liebling, the children of the city’s tumultuous streets are a symbol of strength.


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