Reflections on documentary, reportage, photojournalism and art photography (p44 of notes)

Before I worked on Part 1 I’m not sure I understood much about documentary photography – as a genre it is barely mentioned in either FiP or EYV. Like many others I suppose my reflexive understanding of “documentary” is as something that is video or film, often prefixed with “hardhitting”, “fly on the wall” or “secret footage”. I’m not sure that I would find it much easier to sum up now;  looking at my notes I would say that documentary photography is an attempt at showing the “facts” of something in a reasonably “objective” manner, perhaps with the aim of disseminating ideas via the distribution of the work. But “facts” and “objective” are words that are hard to pin down themselves. I think the modern interpretation of documentary photography is much broader – a record of a place, a group of people, an activity for example.

The course notes tell me that reportage is “more closely related to a subjective way of storytelling”. It’s story telling from the photographer’s perspective rather than aiming for an objective approach. So it’s more subjective and personal, less objective and analytical. Photojournalism is work that’s made and used as news imagery, to break or illustrate news stories. Like documentary, we like to think that it’s true, but there are numerous opportunities to spin its nature and message, from Photoshop to careful captioning and context. I think the “rules” are different for art photography. It’s about the aesthetics rather than the accuracy. It’s about a message that isn’t necessarily a news story or a social cause (although it could be). I was engaged by Paul Seawright’s view that art photography doesn’t make everything explicit; it releases its meaning gradually and allows the viewer the space to find their own meaning from the work.

I find myself more engaged, on the whole, by art photography and conceptual work.

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