Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images

Why We Exist

Documentary Photographers and The Curious Society

Kenneth Jarecke
4 min readAug 31, 2022

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By capturing the present, photography changes the future.

In 1871, William Jackson documented a place that many didn’t believe existed. A year later, because of his photographs, it became known as Yellowstone National Park. His images helped preserve the place that today, even when seen with one’s own eyes, is still hard to believe.

In 1908, Lewis Hines photographed the plight of child laborers working in factories and sweatshops across the United States. By shining a light on the conditions these children were working under he helped to eliminate the hellholes in which they were trapped.

In 1936, Dorothea Lange put a human face to those suffering through the Great Depression. Six years later George Strock brought the horror of a war raging thousands of miles away, into the homes of every American. A couple of years later, David Douglas Duncan showed that same audience exactly what a “thousand yard stare” looks like. A decade later, Eddie Adams, captured a street execution, and Nick Ut, defined the term “collateral damage” with an image of a little girl running down a road, on fire.

Most of these images were made before we were born, yet they still managed to impact our lives today. They’ll do the same for those who come after us. These images were made on purpose, by professionals who knew exactly what they were doing. Not a single one was made by accident. Photographers working at this level expect those who properly see their work to be moved. Occasionally, their work will even move a nation.

That’s the power of the still image in the hands of a professional witness. Unfortunately, we’re running out of these people and we’re also running out of places for their images to be properly seen.

This kind of work is made by technicians with the eyes of an artist. They are curious observers filled with empathy, who are gifted with courage and driven to successfully share what they’ve seen with an equally curious audience. What they do has recently fallen out of fashion. Not the idea mind you, everybody still appreciates the romantic notion of the dashing photojournalist, what has become passé is the dedication and support it takes to become one.

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Kenneth Jarecke

I'm a husband, dad, photographer, a writer (sort of), an occasional rancher and the Founder of The Curious Society. https://www.curious-society.org