Category Archives: Part 1 Introducing documentary

Project: Defining documentary

Exercise 1: What is documentary photography?

In this short video, Miranda Gavin of Hot Shoe magazine talked about how to define documentary photography in response to the changes in the ways media presents the documentary and the changing nature of photography in the digital age.

The term Documentary is a pretty loose one which in the past I  associated with factual TV films, applying the term photojournalism to illustrated news items. Recently however, the ‘documenting’ of issues over a longer time period, I now associate with documentary photography. As Gavin pointed out, the labelling of genres has more to do with their presentation in magazines than their actual purpose or meaning.

The recording and presentation of still images has seen a similar revolution that the introduction of television over the cinema newsreel in the 50’s and the use of video versus  film in the 70’s and 80’s. Both moving and still images are now recorded endlessly on portable devices found in the pockets of the majority of the population, which makes everyone a potential news gatherer. This coupled with the decline in the use of printed media has led to a dearth of work for the photo-journalist. In a recent study group discussion we concluded that the photographers response was to produce documentaries for print media (books) and fine art galleries, although as Miranda Gavin pointed out, we need to look at how we describe this genre where art meets documentary and maybe come up with some new terms to describe it.