Jacob Riis' "How the Other Half Lives"--Some opinions about the nature of the photograph for historical purposes.

Essay by spllbnd10University, Bachelor's September 2004

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The Mirror with a Memory

1. Jacob Riis, an emigrant from Scandinavia, experienced firsthand the poverty in New York slums. After moving from odd job to odd job he found himself begging for food on the street and immersed in the peasantry of "The Bend", the nickname for the slum neighborhood in which he lived, Riis became a reporter. His specific goal was to prompt the public into action on social reforms that would improve the lives of The Bend's residents or do away with The Bend entirely. Week after week, left Riis disappointed with the lack of action his articles were stirring. Eventually, he left reporting to write a book, How The Other Half Lives, chronicling the horrors of the slums. His logic being a book of writing, statistics and photographs would be better able to capture the emotion and the need for immediate attention he felt the situation warranted than weeks of articles would ever be able to do.

In the end Jacob Riis helped to create laws for better housing, education, child labor and playground construction. His photographs captured the very worst of the New York slums and helped create a mandate for social reform.

Riis' experience of living in The Bend himself, as well as his reporting experience with the police department allowed him to make his photos especially telling. He was privy to police raid information, on which he would tag along and get some candid nighttime shots of the residents of The Bend. Riis' firsthand knowledge of the streets and its residents also gave him special insight on what stories he should tell and what photos he should publish to achieve a necessary level of shock value to spur the public reaction he sought.

2. I both agree and disagree with the authors'...