Opinions about documentary photography

Started 2 months ago | Questions thread
Colin Dutton Regular Member • Posts: 237
Re: Opinions about documentary photography

Glenda Campana wrote:

Hello guys I just dropped by to have different point of views regarding documentary photography. Below I will write down some questions and i woild like to hear your opinion.

  1. What do you think are the skills required for documentary photography?
  2. Would you consider documentary photography as an art?
  3. What commonalities documentary photography has with other photography practices?
  4. What are the standards that you should achieve and respect in documentary photography?
  5. What is the difference between documentary photography and photojournalism?

Those are pretty big questions but I'll try and get some quick ideas down in case they might help...

1. Curiosity, having something to say, having the ability to express ideas visually and a good understanding of context (in terms of yourself, your subject, your work and your audience).

2. As with most forms of creative expression, it has the potential to be art. Only the potential.

3. I think history has moved on from the days when documentary photography was reasonably clearly defined as a photographic genre. What might be considered as documentary today encompasses, absorbs and crosses over a broad range of photographic styles and practices. As such I don't think it makes much sense to talk about commonalities as that would suggest documentary maintains a defined method of working, which it doesn't in my opinion.

4. Again, I think you've got to go back to the 1970s to find a time in which documentary was considered 'objective' in some way, and that the photographer had a responsibility to reflect the truth and 'respect standards'. Things have moved on and there have been long theoretical discussions on the subject. I think most contemporary documentary practitioners are very much aware of the complexities of subjectivity and objectivity, of truth and fiction. The best ones recognise it openly, sometimes referencing it in their work or finding strategies to bypass or confront it.

5. I think there are points of contact between them but also important differences. Photojournalism tends (but not always) to be made for immediate and fairly quick consumption in newspapers and on-line news media. As such the images need to be 'read' easily so the style is often dramatic and immediate and must contain key elements to a story in a small selection of images (or a single image). It also tends to follow events as they happen. Documentary photography, I think, has the luxury of being slower both in terms of the way the work is produced and the way it's consumed. Documentary photographers often take on long-term projects, exploring themes and issues in a way that might be more conceptual, more layered or that require a more considered  input from the viewer. The context of documentary is also different, tending to aim towards book publications and exhibitions rather than news media.

Just to let you know, my own background is in documentary photography. I'm working mainly as a commercial photographer these days although I continue to produce personal documentary projects for my own satisfaction.

Hope that helps. Good luck with your studies!


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