What makes a document? – Post Links

I felt the last post would have become overly long if I added any thoughts and reflections on the links within the WeAreOCA original post and responses so am commenting here instead.

The first link is from Jose himself advising us that context is “a necessary attribute in a documentary photograph, as it is clearly emphasized in a book a recently reviewed for We Are OCA.”

The post for that is here and on reading the entry it looks like a handy reference book to own so I have just ordered it, will update you as to its value as I read through it.

Jose 27 August 2011 at 5:56 pm due to the turn in the conversation posted a link to the BBC news with regards to the “leaping wolf” scandal.

“Your comment reminded me of a photograph which was eventually disqualified from the 2009 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.”What’s most interesting about this case is that we are not talking about digital fakery but a key piece of information which was disclosed and completely changed the way we responded to the image. And that’s because even though what the photograph shows is a wolf jumping, what it tell us is something about the quality of ‘being wild’. Once we know the wolf may have been trained to do the stunt our perception of the image totally changes. The quality ‘wild’ is immediately gone, even though the actual image is very much the same and real, as in, presumably, not the product of digital trickery.

In the context of the original question the shift for me became less that the photograph documented a wild animal but that it documented the lengths that some people will go to in order to enter and win a competition and that from now on the photographer will be linked to a cheating scandal.

Peter Haveland 28 August 2011 at 11:52 am added
For those who like to get their theory via fiction and drama try Stephen Poliakoff’s Shooting the past

All documents mediate that which they seek to document.

From reading the plot outline I gather his meaning is that some people only perceive photographs to have a value is they have context and narrative. I wholeheartedly concur that this is true as sadly years after my Dad died my Mum threw out a load of old photos because she didn’t know who they were! I didn’t realise this at the time as I am fascinated by old photos and have also been tracing my family tree. My father also served in Korea and she threw away all the photos he had of that time bar a few of him that are in really poor condition. If only I had a time machine to go back and rescue them!

Gareth 1 September 2011 at 8:15 pm also contributed
Some photos are documents as soon as they are written to the memory card of course, this startling example from Monday is a case in point. The editorial and comments however show how people bring their own meanings…

Which also supports my argument that images don’t have to have time to be considered a document.

Peter Haveland 3 September 2011 at 12:38 pm then added
Take a look at this chapter by John Berger

but I don’t think the link took me to where it should have…

Pdog19 17 November 2013 at 5:24 pm said
This is one of the more insightful reviews of the difference between photojournalism and documentary photography written by Antonin Kratochvil (Czech-born American photojournalist).

So I will have to make sure I take time to read the article in full but at a quick glance it states:

Photojournalism—in its instant shot and transmission—doesn’t show “life.” It neither has the time to understand it nor the space to display its complexity. The pictures we see in our newspapers show frozen instants taken out of context and put on a stage of the media’s making, then sold as truth. But if the Molotov cocktail-throwing Palestinian is shot in the next instant, how is that told? And what does that make him—a nationalist or terrorist? From the photojournalist, we’ll never know since time is of the essence, and a deadline always looms. Viewers can be left with a biased view, abandoned to make up their minds based on incomplete evidence.

Through documentary work, the photographer has a chance to show the interwoven layers of life, the facets of daily existence, and the unfettered emotions of the people who come under the camera’s gaze. When finally presented, viewers are encouraged to use their intelligence and personal experiences, even their scepticism, to judge. By eliciting associations and metaphors in the viewer, an image has the potential to stimulate all senses. But photographs that do not fulfil this potential remain visual data whose meaning is limited to the boundaries of the frame; the viewer is left to look, comprehend the information presented, and move on.

Nigel Monckton 25 November 2013 at 10:22 pm mentions
A document is “…any concrete or symbolic indexical sign, preserved or recorded toward the ends of representing, of reconstituting, or of proving a physical or intellectual phenomenon.” So says Suzanne Briet in ”What is documentation” – one of the founding texts of information science  On this basis both the balloon, and the image of the balloon are documents – the one of the power of a leader, the other of the existence of a particular balloon. The photo is also a secondary document, in that it references the message of the first document.

All which scarily echos Walton.

Peter Haveland 17 June 2014 at 10:22 am gives us more useful information
There is, currently, a scan of the article but much better to buy Berger and Mohr’s “Another Way of Telling” from which it comes.

but I hate reading PDFs so will possibly download and print it for later consumption.

jsumb20 June 2014 at 11:12 pm adds
Here’s Susie Linfield – author of the Cruel Radiance talking about Documentary, fascinating for all sorts of reasons that are explored on the Documentary course.

Having been to a Don McCullin talk I was interested in this artcle for many reasons. Possibly another post for another day but a snippet would be:

Throughout the book, Linfield asks herself – and us – questions such as: what does it mean to look at photographs depicting violence and suffering? Is the refusal to do that truly a form of respect? Why is this type of photography branded as voyeuristic, exploitation and pornography? What would solidarity with the people in such photographs mean? What would our understanding of the world be like without photographs and why do some thinkers maintain that a world without images would be a better one? What does it mean to acknowledge another human being’s suffering knowing that to truly understand it is often impossible? And how has the photography of political trauma and political witness responded to the radical changes in how war is made, and what it is made for, in the course of the past eight decades?

Anne Bryson 30 April 2016 at 11:23 pm states
I have read the posts of Folio, Anne and Peter, (September 11) questioning whether or not facts are really true. So that brings into question the images such as Felice Beato’s image of the massacre at Lucknow where he apparently arranged disinterred bodies in the foreground before taking his picture to stress the scale of the massacre.

Just like Andrew Gardner then…just because the bodies were moved does not make them less dead, the horror less real, the facts of war a lie, but the images themselves are not in a true sense ‘authentic.’ However they do still document truths and a moment of historical significance…

Leonie Broekstra 29 August 2016 at 1:20 pm adds
Phew, so many replies and ideas to ponder on! I read this article, that questions what makes a documentary and concludes that the question should be ‘when is a documentary?’

But I must admit to not reading any of that yet….again 23 pages of a PDF…

Despite this exercise being time consuming it certainly was worthwhile. I have picked up some useful documents to read and ordered a book which hopefully will further develop my theoretical understanding and inform my photographic practice.


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