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In a critical stance: trust, manipulation, deception, and the epistemic value of social documentary photography

Forthcoming in Trust and Disinformation, Springer, 2024.


In my paper, I argue that social documentary photography is a specific subgenre of documentary photography characterised by its critical attitude towards the predicament of social or ethnic groups. After describing social documentary photography and distinguishing it from other documentary subgenres, I provide an account of the interactive photographic meaning construction process of social documentary photographic works in terms of the theory of photographic illocutionary acts, developed as a distinct type of pictorial illocutionary act. First, I analyse some works by Lewis Hine to illustrate the photographic meaning construction process, and then I turn to explicating the epistemic value of social documentary photographs, also discussing some deceptive practices that may jeopardize our trust in these works. Finally, I examine Steve McCurry’s recent claim that he should be considered a “visual storyteller”, not a documentary photographer, and that therefore his image manipulation practices are consistent with the freedom of fine art photographic practices. I argue that the contextual information he provides, along with his photographic practice, is ambiguous and does not support McCurry's claim.

Full text / preprint will be available soon.

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