Jacob Riis: Photographer, Social Reformer

I came across Jacob Riis randomly. I come across many things this way: my interest
is piqued by a reference from something else. In this case, from a movie that I had
been searching for for some time: (you can watch the whole thing here, if it tickles
your fancy).

Riis was a police reporter for the New York Tribune in the late 1800s. Writing about New York City’s Lower East Side, he regularly came into contact with “the immigrant poor, the oppressed, the exploited, and the downtrodden.”

The stories Riis wrote emphasized the humanity of the tenement population. While his commentary was often harsh, his ultimate
goal was to depict the poor as a group capable of responding favorably to reform efforts. An emerging theme of his writings
was that the poor were not immoral by nature, but, rather,
were products of the environment in which they lived.

He soon discovered that the printed word did little to attract attention to his
“personal campaign” to better the lives of the poor, and decided that photography would be more effective in moving people to action.

From reportage and photography, he moved on to lantern-slide lectures, published two books (How the Other Half Lives and Children of the Poor), and became active
in public works and reform.

He also took some really great pictures.

Links & References

Agile Writer
Documenting “The Other Half”
Masters of Photography
Spartacus Educational
Wikipedia

I know, I should learn how to use numbered citations…

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