Photography and sociology have approximately the same birth date, if you count sociology’s birth as the publication of Comte’s work which gave it its name, and photography’s birth as the date in 1839 when Daguerre made public his method for fixing an image on a metal plate. From the beginning, essay photography worked on a variety of projects.
Among these, for both, was the exploration of society. While sociology has had other ends, moral and metaphysical, sociologists have always wanted to understand how society worked, to map its dimensions and then look into the big sectors and little crannies so mapped. They ordinarily wanted to find things out rigorously and scientifically, and to develop general theories. The neutral typewriter will do any of these things as well as the skill of its user permits. Alexander Blumenstiel now edits a journal called Videosociology. Many photographers have undertaken projects which produce results that parallel those of sociology, and make claims that in some ways parallel the claims to truth and representativeness of sociology. Insofar as their work has this character, I intend to show them how a knowledge of some of the ideas and techniques of academic sociology can be of help to them.
Photographers can seldom get the support for more long-term projects, certainly not on a routine basis, so a great deal of important work has been done in this concentrated way and many prized photographic skills consist of doing good work despite the lack of sufficient time. Collier’s book is a classic, and required reading for anyone interested in these problems. If the photographer has some sociological ideas available, he can apply them to these more or less commonsense questions and answers. Much of what I’ve described so far is only what any reasonable curious person might want to know. Nevertheless, basic sociological theory is involved, one compatible with most varieties of sociology in current use. Photography and the Law by G.