Telling a story with pictures is an old device (e.g. stained-glass windows in churches, tapestries, illustrated manuscripts), but documentary photography gave the idea a new life and social function. Documentary emerged as a popular practice across a variety of media after the First World War and developed throughout the twentieth century. Neither art nor advertising, documentary drew on the idea of information as a creative education about actuality, life itself. Documentary aimed to show, in an informal way, the everyday lives of ordinary people to other ordinary people. This idea, of showing ‘everyday life’ of one group of people to another group, rapidly became popular in the early twentieth century and remains a significant component of modern mass communications culture today. In this respect, the modern notion of documentary is a media product of the twentieth century.
This birth of documentary as a popular form is clearly linked historically to the rise of a large-scale mass press, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s (and even during the Second World War1). The emergence of popular illustrated photo magazines, which began to flood the commercial magazine markets from the mid-1930s, like Life in the USA, Picture Post in Britain, Drum in South Africa, and many others, created a constant flow of news stories and pictures, documentary ‘stories’ on everyday life. The photographer became a new media field-worker required to supply magazines and newspapers with photographs to fill the magazine pages. This demand accelerated the industry of photography and photographer-reporters, who began to play a key role in the competitive production process of magazines. (Picture agencies developed, to represent the interests of these photographers.) The photographer was the one ‘out there’ bringing photographs home, a ‘reporter’ of everyday life who supplied the pictures (and in some cases stories too) for this growing market. Many of the famous documentary photographers from that period, now known as authors in their own right, first cut their teeth working on various magazines. (The tendency to extract individual pictures from the original sequences and put them in art gallery