Building Solidarity with Subjects and Audience in Sociology and Documentary Photography
Sociology and documentary photography methodologically converge with the solidarity that they build with their subjects. However, sociology has a less developed relationship with its audiences. Sociological field and research methods could benefit from expanding their level of engagement with their audience to match that of documentary photography.
A prime example of a sociologist and a documentary photographer who uses the proper methodology necessary to build solidarity with his subjects is Sebastiao Salgado. Using an ethnographic approach, Salgado enlightens his audience about social issues without understating the subject matter at hand.
“You don’t go to do one picture. You go to build a story… I go to stay inside my story, to try to understand what’s going on, to be close to the people I photograph, and to create a flow of information that we can use to communicate something (425).”
Salgado embraces the social potential of photography by allowing his subjects to communicate directly with the world. He gives his subjects a truthful voice.
A negative aspect of sociological research, is that it often fails to call the audience to action. However, the documentarian succeeds where the sociologist fails. They evoke a visceral reaction that compels the audience to affect change.
Salgado’s photography succeeds not only in engaging viewers in a way that the research sociologist can not, but it also connects the local social spheres with global social networks. His photographs merge the emotional and the empirical. They bridge the spatial and temporal divides that are present between subject and audience.
Salgado places an emphasis on the local collaboration of organizations. This horizontal strategy benefits both the organization involved and the ethnographic research being conducted. It has the ability to encourage accessibility with hesitant communities and expand the viewing audience.
When documentary and sociology merge, these two methodologies accomplish what each alone can not.