A photo essay is a form of visual storytelling that develops a narrative across a series of photographs. It originated during the late 1920s in German illustrated journals, initially presenting stories in the objective, distanced tone of news reporting. The photo essay gained wide popularity with the growth of photographically illustrated magazines such as VU (launched in Paris in 1928), LIFE (launched in New York in 1936), and Picture Post (launched in London in 1938). It is associated especially closely with LIFE, where the photo essay became a platform not only for informing readers, but for influencing their opinions. Through the middle decades of the 20th century, this visual format would be used to familiarize audiences with the transformations of a modernizing world, entertain them with slice-of-life stories, and introduce them to unfamiliar members of their society.

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