Part One – The Photograph As Document

Project One – Eyewitnesses?

Is the photograph portraying the whole truth? All truth, but only a part? One version of it? Or many at the same time? Or only the photographer’s agenda? Or is the agenda of the person who presented the image for consumption?

Maria Short (2011) lists ‘Levels of Truth’, that is a photographer can distort truth by:

  • Portraying the subject in a particular way to reflect their own agenda
  • The photographer’s perspective [I think this can be unconscious as well as purposeful]
  • The subject’s own agenda (assuming a person), reflected in posture and expression for example
  • Presentation of the image and technical approach
  • The audience’s own perspective [not in the control of the photographer, though the photographer may assume in advance]

The course text also points out that uncontrolled and swift spread of private images may reach into the public realm. Perhaps this means that conflicting imagery of the same subject are readily available for consumption, raising the question, which one is the truth?


The Ferguson Unrest (or Ferguson Riots) involved protests and riots that began as a consequence of a fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer on August 9th 2014. The publicity quickly focussed on the debate of the relationship between Afro-Americans and the law-enforcement community. Further unrest and deaths of involved parties have continued until 2016 and beyond, exacerbating the situation and creating continued suspicion on all sides. [accessed 30/04/2019].

An alderman of St. Louis, Antonio French, spent the initial days posting pictures and videos of the event, and in particular police actions, on Twitter. He was reportedly arrested and then released, possibly as a consequence of his tweets. Dan Gillmor of the Guardian described him as a citizen journalist of the best kind, “…a credible witness who has helped inform the wider public about a critical matter. Can anyone plausibly doubt that he and the two professional journalists who were briefly taken into custody after police demanded they stop recording were targeted because they were documenting law enforcement actions?” [accessed 29/04/19].

Antonio French – Ferguson Riots 2014

There can be little doubt that it was a polarizing event. Almost without exception, media in UK and Europe appeared to portray the demonstrators as the oppressed and law-enforcement, at best as harsh and at worst as vicious thugs. Popular opinion followed suit. In the US it appeared that they were more support for law-enforcement, but interviews with American democrats was used almost to enforce the European view of the situation. While one can question the veracity of the representations, there can be no doubt that the citizen journalism was influential in the spread of the news and in the way the event was represented.

The pictures taken by citizen journalists do affect the story. They control how observers see the story and the increase the spread of the story. In effect the story spirals out of anyone’s control. They are subjective. They tell the story the photographer wants it to be seen and to some extent also the way the subject wants it to be seen. The person scanning the photograph will also affect the way the photograph is absorbed and consequently the way history is written in an individual’s world view. Observe the picture above. The photographer was accompanying the citizen journalist Antonio French (on the right in the blue shirt). He therefore had an agenda; one assumes an agenda shared with Antoine French. They wished to document abuse of Afro-Americans by law-enforcement. But I think they also acted as mediators; after all Antoine French was an alderman, and therefore part of officialdom. The subject (the man in the black t-shirt) might have been acting up for the camera, or he might simply have been caught by the camera with the expression he is wearing, in which case the photograph might be more objective. It appears to be a hurt expression; one can almost imagine that he is a close friend of the deceased. But that is my imagination; nothing in the image tells me that, and Antoine French did not record that. I also need to state that I chose this image. Why did I pick this image out of all the others that were available?

Magnum photographer, David Hurn, says ‘If I were called, or called myself, a documentary photographer it would imply, to most people in this day and age, that I am taking pictures of some objective truth – which I am not … The only factually correct aspect of photography is that it shows what something looked like under a very particular set of circumstances. But that is not the same as the underlying truth of the even or situation.” (Jay, 1997)

John Szarkowski (2018, p12) opines “More convincingly than other kind of picture, a photograph evokes the tangible presence of reality. Its most fundamental use and its broadest acceptance has been a substitute for the thing itself…Our faith in the truth of a photograph…may be naïve and illusory (for though the lens draws it, the photographer defines it), but it persists.

Documentary and Social Reform

From the course text: “The Farm Security Administration (FSA), 1935–44, was set up as an agency to look out for the good of farmers who had been badly affected by the Great Depression. The men who set it up, Rexford Tugwell and Roy Stryker, “were convinced of the power of photographs to give a human reality to economic arguments…” (Dyer, 2006, p.3).”

The text notes that there has been scepticism about how the photographs have been commissioned and that a significantly controlled approach to image specification and collection (as Stryker had, for example) “leaves the integrity and altruism open to suspicion.

One of the most significant images used by the FSA was the Migrant Mother, taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936.

Dorothea Lange, The Migrant Mother (Florence Owens Thompson), 1936

Stryker has been quoted as saying ‘…So many times I’ve asked myself what is she thinking? She has all the suffering of mankind in her but all the perseverance too…She is immortal’ (La Grange, 2013, p117). At the same time, Florence Owens Thompson is quoted as saying ‘That’s my picture hanging all over the world, and I can’t get a penny out of it…What good’s it doing me?’

Perhaps these two quotes illustrate at least some of the arguments raised about documentary photography, at least in respect of motivation. Is the image taken to further the interests of the FSA? From a political perspective is it reinforcing the class system? What was Lange’s motivation – was it simply to respond to the brief (although this was an opportunistic moment)?

La Grange notes that Lange quotes Thompson as saying, ‘She thought that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me.’ La Grange further notes that although the migrant camp benefited as a result of the photograph’s publication, Mrs Thompson didn’t benefit directly. (La Grange, 2013, p117).

Lewis Hine (1874–1940) was trained to be an educator, who converted to social photography, after carrying a photographic project with his students on Ellis Island. [accessed 05/05/19].

Hine led his sociology classes to Ellis Island, photographing the immigrants who arrived each day. Between 1904 and 1909, Hine took over 200 photographs, coming to the realization that documentary photography could be employed as a tool for social change and reform. [accessed 05/05/19].

He was the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee for nearly 10 years.

Lewis Hines, Spinner, 1908

The following is an extract from [accessed 05/05/19]

‘Until 1917, Hine traveled from the Northeast to the Deep South, photographing children working under extreme conditions in mills, factories, mines, fields and canneries. Most often Hine would have to disguise himself in order to gain entry into these places. His life would have been threatened if the factory owner discovered his true identity, since many of them were violently against social reform. His guises would take the form of a Bible Salesman, postcard salesman, or an industrial photographer to record machinery. Once gaining entry, under constant pressure of being discovered, he would quickly note the child’s age, job description and all pertinent information regarding their unique situation. If Hine was unable to enter the workplace, he would wait patiently outside and photograph people as they left. Hine would then use these photographs for publication in magazines, pamphlets, books, slide lectures, and traveling exhibitions. Eventually these images helped convince government officials to create and strictly enforce laws against child labor. The impact of these photographs on social reform was immediate and profound. They also inspired the concept of art photography, not because of the subject matter, but because the images showed a stark truth that dramatically differed from an emerging artistic character.’

I find it interesting that the ‘deadpan’ approach inspired the concept of art photography, beyond the immediate and beneficial social impact obtained.

An example of an image taken as an ‘eyewitness’ account is that of an interrogation of an Iraqi by an American soldier. The image was taken by Chris Hondros (1970-2011), a photographer I admire, and sadly deceased.

Hondros, like many conflict photographers, set out to document impartially. His motives were pure in a sense. But it clearly is not as simple as that. Why did Hondros set out to document the war in Iraq? Was he entirely ambivalent, regardless of everything he witnessed? Did the American soldiers control his access? Did the soldiers act in any way differently because he was present? Did the Iraqi’s captured behave any differently?

We probably don’t know all the answers to these questions, and now, some of them will never be known.

Regardless to the answers of any of these questions, he, and so many others, are risking their lives routinely, to document and present, to the world. Their motives will be in part selfless, if not entirely.

Jonathan Klein, Co-Founder and CEO of Getty Images reminisces in Testament – Chris Hondros (Ciric, Bernasconi and Piaia, 2014, Introduction), that he discussed with Hondros and Berlosconi, the risk of going back into Libya at the time (2011), but that Chris was resolute that the story needed to be told. ‘This is the challenge and dilemma at the core of conflict photography’.

I quote Chris Hondros directly: ‘One of the ongoing themes in my work, I hope, one of the things I believe in, is s sense of human nature, a sense of shared humanity above the cultural layers we place upon ourselves…We place these layers of ethnicity and culture on ourselves, and it doesn’t really matter that much compared to the human experience.’

Chris Hondros, Interrogation in Iraq, 2003

Project Two – Photojournalism

The text provides us with three critical viewpoints:

Charity – Martha Rosler

The first represented by Rosler is that the social conscience of well-meaning photographers such as Lewis Hine was not helping the situation because it reinforced the gap between rich and poor. Rosler argues that photographers such as Hine were making a strong case for charity rather than self-help, charity being an argument for the preservation of class (Bolton, 1992).

I find this argument, and her opinion of social anthropologists and photographers a little unfair. It seems clear that their motivation was intended to document for the purpose of highlighting the plight of the poor. It seems their purpose was not purely academic nor for self-aggrandisement. It perhaps can be argued that it is patronising though I don’t consider them to be exploitative. There may have been some exploitative taking images of the poor, for example in the Bowery, but this would not be in itself a case for the general argument Rosler is making (that compassion and dedication to reform has given way to ‘… exoticism, tourism and voyeurism…trophy-hunting and careerism’ (Burton, 1989, p307).

It probably cannot be argued that the real social improvement that has been made is due to this documentary photography, but can it be argued that it hasn’t helped. In my opinion not.

I believe that photography must be able to change sitiuations. Fore example, would the protests in the US over the war in Vietnam, have been so strong, widespread and successful, without the photo-journalism.

Compassion Fatigue – Susan Sontag

Sontag (Sontag, 1979, p21) claims that ‘concerned’ photography has done as much to deaden conscious as to arouse it, essentially de-sensitising the public through over-exposure. But Sontag also notes that photography that bears witness to others misfortune can be criticised when the images themselves, seem to much like art (Sontag, 2003).

For one to be shocked, one has to believe in the image. The social contract surrounding the viewers’ faith in the reality portrayed, is broken, when it becomes evident that the images have been falsified in order to illicit a strong response. In the end it has the opposite effect. The Time article [accessed 12/05/19] also notes:

“But in an ongoing war of images, where every photograph proferred may be suspect, this social contract becomes frayed. The release of this report on the death of thousands of executed detainees just as peace talks were beginning, and the report’s sponsorship by Qatar, a supporter of the rebels, can lead observers to want to relegate the imagery to no more than another volley in the attempt to claim the higher ground. While the existence of 55,000 photographs showing such barbarity would have previously been more than enough to strike a profound chord in the public conversation, perhaps viewers and governments alike are becoming habituated to such horror on a mass scale. Or perhaps we are now also aware that in the United States alone we regularly take more than 55,000 photographs every 15 seconds”

This highlights the other aspect of desensitization, that an onslaught of imagery will deaden the responses, rather like that of the pain response under torture. In summary I do not support Sontag’s view, if the viewer trusts the images and the images are limited in number. Short (2011) quotes John Sweeney of the Daily Express, defending the publication of images of famine in Sudan from criticism by Claire Short, who observed “The success of Stoddart’s pictures suggests that the idea of compassion fatigue is a convenient myth for those who hold political power.” I do concur, however, that publications of false images, or too many images (reaching saturation point), almost certainly will deaden the response.

Tom Stoddart, Sudan Famine Series, 1998

Inside/Out – Abigail Solomon-Godeau

From the course text: ‘In her 1994 essay ‘Inside/out’, Solomon-Godeau argues against a binary insider/outsider approach to documentary photography: either voyeuristic and objective on the one hand or subjective and ‘confessional’ on the other. A way forward would be to avoid both these positions and produce work which provides a distanced look at the subject as well as offering some sort of ‘truth’, which may not be the truth. She offers Robert Frank’s The Americans and Ed Ruscha’s work as good examples. She also believed that Martha Rosler’s way of depicting the Bowery was shifting the debate from an inside/outside one and into the realm of representation, which she saw as stemming from art photography.’

Solomon-Godeau feels that what is the issue is how we know reality (La Grange, 2013, p128).

One probably does not need to be an insider to produce a successful documentary project. La Grange notes that Frank was Swiss and an outsider. (La Grange, 2013, p129).

Aftermath and Aesthetics

Roger Fenton (1819-1869) was a British photographer. He is one of the first war photographers and was instrumental in founding the Royal Photographic Society. He was commissioned by the Society to take photographs of the war in Crimea.

Roger Fenton, Crimean War, circa 1855

The text notes that, in recent years, war photography has taken a turn from action-based, visceral photography, towards the aftermath – “quiet, contemplative, often large-scale and aesthetically beautiful, reminiscent of Fenton’s work.

A modern example of this aftermath (or “late”) photography is the work of Joel Meyerowitz, the official photographer selected to photograph scenes of 9/11.

Joel Meyerowitz, New York, post 911

David Campany (Campany, 2003) argues that Meyerowitz’s work is too safe and beautiful to be fitting for depicting horrific scenes of terrorism. On looking at the image above, one thinks of typical American city-based black and white photographs of the mid 20th century, not a post-apocalyptic scene. It should be noted that he did take many images depicting destruction. However, these could be described as painterly rather than visceral.

Campany also notes that “Certainly the late photograph is often used as a vehicle for mass mourning or working through … The danger is that it can also foster an indifference and political withdrawal that masquerades as concern. Mourning by association becomes merely an aestheticized response.” Paul Seawright’s aftermath photographs are devoid of action and often people. The image below, showing a minefield in Afghanistan, is typical of his work.

Paul Seawright, Hidden Series, 2002

We are left to imagine the danger in the scene. Edgar Martin uses aftermath photography in the context of other tragedy, specifically the aftermath of the American house price crash.

Edgar Martins, Ruins of the Second Gilded Age, 2009

Project Three – Reportage

Reportage is related to a subjective way of storytelling, rather than the objective intentions of photojournalism.

From the text: ‘The ‘decisive moment’, Henri Cartier–Bresson’s famous phrase, fits well in the context of reportage. The decisive moment is not simply the right moment caught by the photographer that makes a good picture, although that could be part of it; it’s the ability of one picture to tell a bigger story about an event or issue. It’s about all the components coming together within one frame to speak of something beyond the frame.’

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dessau, 1945

Nan Goldin (1953) is an American documentary photographer who captures her moments and the people she loves through her spontaneous and raw snapshots of her life. She is best known for her work depicting the underground world of New York City and Boston through her photos of drag queen friends, her violent relationship with her ex boyfriends, and the slow, painful decent of the health of her AIDS inflicted friends, including her best friend Cookie. [accessed 12/05/19].

Nan Goldin, Joanna Laughing, 1991

Goldin is an insider in the groups she photographs, showing us their life through a reportage or snapshot style.

Colour and the Street

Street photography is reportage used in a creative way. The street photographer’s only objective is to show life as the photographer sees it. Originally photographed in black and white (photographers such as Cartier-Bresson, Arnold, Frank, Evans paving the way).

Walker Evans, The Unposed Portrait, 1962

Street photography followed art photography in adopting colour photography.

Marius Vieth, London, 2015

Research Point

Helen Levitt (1913-2009) was an American photographer noted for her black and white street photography, although she was equally at home working in colour. Two examples of her work are shown below:

Joel Meyerowitz (born 1938) also an American street photographer, was an early advocate of colour photography. ‘Meyerowitz was instrumental in changing the attitude toward the use of color photography from one of resistance to nearly universal acceptance.’ [accessed 13/05/19]

Joel Meyerowitz, Gold Corner, New York, 1974

Paul Graham (born 1956) is a British photographer living and working in New York City. ‘His use of color film in the early 1980s, at a time when British photography was dominated by traditional black-and-white social documentary, had a revolutionizing effect on the genre. Soon a new school of photography emerged with artists like Martin Parr, Richard Billingham, Simon Norfolk, and Nick Waplington making the switch to color.’ [accessed 13/05/19]

Paul Graham, Untitled #38, Woman on Sidewalk, New York, 2002

Bruce Gilden (b. 1946) is an American street photographer, known for his candid close-up shots using a flashgun. Many of his projects are shot in B&W.

Bruce Gilden, Go Project

Notably, his Faces Project are shot in colour.

Bruce Gilden, Faces Project

Joel Sternfeld (b. 1944) is an American colour fine-art photographer. His large-format colour photographs that extend the tradition of chronicling roadside America initiated by Walker Evans in the 1930s. [accessed 18/05/19]

Joel Sternfield, New Jersey, 1980

Martin Parr (b. 1952) is a British documentary photographer known for his photographic projects that take an intimate, satirical and anthropological look at aspects of modern life, in particular documenting the social classes of England, and more broadly the wealth of the Western world. [accessed 18/05/19]

He predominantly shoots in colour.

Martin Parr, Beach Therapy

Fan Ho (1937-2016) was a Chinese photographer, film director and actor. “His command of natural light is masterful. He uses it to emphasize the drama of the subjects. He uses light not just for illumination but to create a mood, an atmosphere. Locations look like film sets which he has carefully sought out in his reconnaissance. The compositions are simple, clean and feel modern. They combine a keen sense of graphic juxtaposition of elements, depth and perspective. Each image appears to tell cinematic stories of a time lost.” [accessed 18/05/19]

All his work is captured in B&W.

Saul Leiter (1923-2013) was an American photographer and painter. His photographs often demonstrate a painterly quality. “By the 1950s, he began to work in color as well, compiling an extensive and significant body of work during the medium’s infancy. His distinctively subdued color often has a painterly quality that stood out among the work of his contemporaries…Leiter is now held to be a pioneer of early color photography, and is noted as one of the outstanding figures in post-war photography.” [accessed 18/05/19]

The advantages of black and white, and colour, extracted from a discussion between Eric Kim and James Maher, [accessed 18/05/19]

are summarised below.

Advantages of B&W:

  1. Without any colour, every area of a photograph starts on an even plane for the eye and so it makes forms, shapes, lines and contrast much more prominent and important.
  2. Figures can look more powerful and more dramatic. Faces and expressions are emphasized more.
  3. Since the majority of old photography was done in black and white, it can help a modern moment feel classic and timeless.
  4. Photographs can seem more serious or sometimes more thoughtful.
  5. Patterns and textures can become more prominent or interesting. (Colour can have the same effect as well.)

Advantages of Colour:

  1. (In Maher’s opinion) there is not much middle ground for colour; it either adds or subtracts to a scene, but I think that the obvious starting point is that it often just looks prettier.  It sounds so simple to say, but sometimes colours are so beautiful that you just can’t take them out, regardless of the content of the photo.
  2. Colour can enhance a humorous or playful situation.
  3. Colours can enhance any mood if used correctly. Blues can help a photo feel more melancholy, reds more vibrant or angry, browns or muted colours more gritty or dreary.
  4. Colour can be important to the message of the photo.
  5. Colour can add focus to the main subject if it is in a prominent hue. On the other hand, if an unimportant object is the most dominant colour in a scene then this can significantly take away from the focus in the photo.
  6. A play between two complementary colours can have a powerful effect on the dynamics of a scene.
  7. Colours can be important to a culture.

Most street photography is perhaps surrealist. If there is a tendency away from that, it is perhaps due to the explosion of street photography around the world, and exploration of the mundane.

Martin Parr’s work is an ironic look at being British. Similarly, Gilden in America.


Find a street that particularly interests you – it may be local or further afield. Shoot 30 colour images and 30 black and white images in a street photography style. In your learning log, comment on the differences between the two formats. What difference does colour make? Which set do you prefer and why?

Below are thirty images taken in a street style, shown in both colour and black and white.

Colour emphasises elements in the image that have strong colour or emphasises contrasting colour. Colour can also be distracting where form, light and shade are the elements that need emphasising.

Black and white does not emphasise elements of strong colour, unless one uses colour filters. Without the distraction of colour, texture, light, shade, shape and form become the focus for the eye. Black and white can also help the viewer overlook low quality, out of focus or blurred images.

I have no preference for one or the other, rather, each should be used according to the merits of the image.

In the first set of images above, I prefer colour, largely because of the strong colours in the image, for example lipstick colour. In the second set I prefer the black and white version, where lack of colour frees the viewer to study expression.

Project 4 – The Gallery Wall – Documentary as Art

Extracted from the course text:

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, general opinion had regarded all photographs as documents. After photography began to be accepted as art, John Szarkowski saw the need to differentiate and so, in 1967 he curated the show New Documents at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), selecting Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand to demonstrate a new kind of documentary photography in America. Within ten years (1967-1978) MoMA had expanded its understanding of photography, seeing it as moving out of the realm of documents and into art.

The UK finally caught up with America in 2003 when Tate Modern put on its first exhibition devoted to photography. Cruel and Tender was the first of its kind in Britain and examined photography’s relationship with realism. Artists such as August Sander and Lewis Baltz were shown alongside Philip-Lorca DiCorcia and William Eggleston to demonstrate the diverse nature of photography and its relationship with truth. Accepted notions of photography as a factual recording device were challenged, allowing photography to enter into the currency of ‘art’.

The Tate’s fourth exhibition dedicated to photography, Street and Studio (2008), amongst other things questioned perceived notions of candid moments or real events (traditionally linked with the street) and staged moments or made-up events (traditionally linked with the studio) and how such distinctions were becoming blurred, debunking the ‘camera never lies’ myth.

Research Point

Paul Seawright (b. 1965) is a Northern Irish photographer. In his series, Sectarian Murder, Seawright revisited the sites of sectarian attacks during the 1970’s close to where he grew up in Belfast. “The works power lies in the shocking gulf between the details of the demise of the victim and the banality of the locations, such as a children’s playground and a well-known beauty spot… The time interval of some fifteen years between murderous and creative act was important to the artist, not only to ensure the religious anonymity of each victim, but also, in a sense, to indicate that the murdered were victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” [accessed 19/05/19]

Paul Seawright, Sectarian Murder Series, Roundabout

Seawright subverts the medium as a form of documentary “The sublime nature of the photographs and their particular, unsettling quality comes principally from Seawright’s subversion of the photographic medium as a form of documentary. In preparing for and creating this series, Seawright spent long periods of times at each of the sites, in some instances re-creating the steps of the victims. This intimacy with the events certainly comes across in the variety of ways in which he has chosen to depict the scenes of the crimes. A closer look at the perspectives presented in the series of fourteen photographs shows the variety of human perspectives which Seawright has played with in order to create such an emotive and impactful series. In some it is from the perspective that the victim would have seen the scene, in others, a bystander, and still more difficult in others, that of the perpetrator.”

[accessed 19/05/19]


Seawright does not convey visual information in a documentary style. He purposefully distanced the view from the time period. Without the text, the image, while perhaps interesting, has no context and becomes meaningless. It is taking aftermath photography to its extreme. The image without the wording should be categorised as art, only steering towards documentary with the addition of text.

I find that, while I see with the eyes of a bystander, I do not feel empathy with the bystander. The roundabout above does not evoke fear or loss or any other emotion, except perhaps hardship. I am left with uncomfortable dichotomy between document and art. Having said that, how the image is displayed, probably has a significant impact on whether it is seen as art or document, and perhaps adjusts the meaning. As part of this, one can see in overtly art photographs a smaller distance between photographer and subject than is generally the case with documentary photography.

Sarah Pickering (b.1972) is an English visual artist. Her series, Public Order, ‘document’ a fictitious town, built for training police in real-life emergencies.

Without prior knowledge, one might see the first image above, as document some post-apocalyptic event. Confronted with such images, one might be disturbed. The second scene could be looked on (without prior knowledge) as a set from a movie. Then the images just become interesting at best. Now that I know why they were produced, I am no longer disturbed or perhaps even interested; they can be considered mundane.

When shown together, I would argue that the series is an effective use of documentary, even if not telling a very important narrative.

Allesandra Sanguinetti (b. 1968) is an American photographer, who has used the objective style of photography to make a point about creating fictional, constructed and ultimately subjective realities in her series Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams.

Allesandro Sanguinetti, Saint Lucy

The photographs ambiguously blend documentary and art.

Project 5 The Manipulated Image


Instead of using double exposures or printing from double negatives we now have the technology available to us to make these changes in post-production, allowing for quite astonishing results.

Use digital software such as Photoshop to create a composite image which visually appears to be a documentary photograph, but which could never actually be.

Nothing Bonds us like Xenophobia!


Wells (2009) notes that manipulation of images is nothing new. Collages have been created to create fantastical scenes, or contexts have been altered to manipulate viewers’ perceptions. The difficulty of doing so with the old analogue processes might have been a limiting factor of the breadth and depth of such work, which combined with the innate trust placed in photographers, has ensured that analogue photography remains trusted.

The increased potential that digital photography provides, has made it possible for passable fakes to be produced in very limited time (for example above). Yet, one feels that there remains trust in photographs and in photographers. People generally believe in the news being reported, textual or visual.

There is a sense that an ethical code of practice exists, and it is in this that viewers put their trust. Consequently, I lean towards the view that we can consider digital photography to represent the truth in so far as any photography can be considered truth.


Prior to working on Part One I considered documentary photography as a new form of storytelling, starting from a heritage of storytelling through the medium of art, tapestries, stained glass and so on. I never considered that documentary photographs was the absolute truth in the same way that a stained glass window will tell a version of truth, or maybe not even any version of a truth, but what a person or persons want history recorded as.

I have not fundamentally changed my view on what documentary photography is, but I have been offered an insight into a new “language” or a way of viewing and analysing documentary photographs.

Documentary photography purports to be objective, in that photographer is setting out to record the “truth” as they observe it. Although distortion can and does occur it is either accidental or unavoidable, but not purposeful. One cannot remove subjectivity entirely; one only has to consider the agenda of the FSA and the effect it had on the documentary work of the photographers it commissioned.

Photojournalism is the capturing and presenting of images for the express purpose of presenting news to the viewer. While images are generally not manipulated, there are clear agendas at play. The editors and journalists want to present a particular angle, which must be reinforced by the images they print to support the words. New photographers will carefully pick angle, timing etc to ensure that they achieve the desired outcome. They may claim it is documentary photography, but often they may rarely overlap (except perhaps in investigative journalism).

Unlike photojournalism which purports to be objective, but is expressing a subjective view, Reportage is explicitly subjective storytelling. The photographer is a conveying, overtly so, the story they want to tell the viewer. Reportage may be undertaken for noble reasons, in the same way that documentary photography might, or it may be undertaken for money or glory, in the same way that photojournalism might.

Art photography is perhaps the hardest to define. Of course, images taken in an artistic style, essentially conveying no story, only conveying an aesthetic beauty, cannot be considered as storytelling and so can be excluded from this comparison. So, when does objective or subjective storytelling become art. One useful measure, it seems to me, is distance. Essentially documentary photography emphasises distance between the viewer and subject. Even in reportage or photojournalism this remains so. In art photography, the photographer sets the scene, carefully drawing in the viewer closer to the subject. By virtue of this, one can consider that art photography may require scene setting, which is absent from the other forms. In the absence of scene setting, the art photographer may use a distinctive and (partly) copied style, such as in street photography. The language used by the photographer defines the image as an art photograph.


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Campany, D. (2003). Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’ – David Campany. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12/05/19].

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