The documentary project – other OCA students’ work

Some Documentary Projects.

Not our Time; Penny Watson

As with most of us who choose to ‘document’ Penny has chose a subject very close to her heart, her grandmother, and it shows though in the sensitive nature of the work. I found the imagery well presented and moving. Showing ‘a day in the life’ was something we were asked to deliberately not do and it was interesting to see the progression of a day rather than the progression of a narrative. Is it easier to do a day in the life? Or do you have to have more intimate knowledge of the subject? Another student asked can you sustain the same level of intimacy once you move away from a family member?

Behind the scenes: Beth Aston

Beth Aston’s project was again on a very personal level as she chose to document her own battle with illness. This I found to be very brave, Her choice of lighting, black and white imagery and lighting were used to great effect. The close cropping added another layer of visual coherence. I wonder what elements of this style of photography she would apply to another project or would she chose a different direction?

A Dozen Eggs: Harry Pearce

Another directly personal project where Harry Pearce documented his ‘siblings’ lives into a single family album.’ What came across as everyday snaps I loved the natural lighting on these and the inclusion of text adding a different layer.In time they will be a document to the fashions and ideals of a by gone age.

Feet: Omar Camilleri

I love his opening statment

Why FEET? This is an original project which will bring out the diversities of life and at the same time it reflects today’s realities and challenges. Any theme is a challenge for any artist. And any theme can be a source of inspiration.

I really enjoyed the diversity of this project as well as the photographic skills and high quality of the resulting images. Feet can so tell someone’s life story, from cheap shoes causing deformities, to the occupational hazards of being a dancer, to the innocence of a new born and the excited exuberance of youth

The Dad Project: Briony Campbell

This project in a way was too close for comfort. My mum died from terminal bowl cancer in 2012 and at the time I wondered if I should document it? In some ways I wanted to but in others I felt it was an intrusion into our last moments together. As a daughter and a photographer was I over stepping the line to make a project out of her last days? I don’t think she would have minded if I had asked. We laughed at so many things in those last days. Anyone listening probably were horrified by our irreverent conversations. How many other people cut out paper fish and seaweed and stuck it to a urine bag? Would have made an interesting photograph!

Well done to Briony for having the courage to complete this emotive set of images which tell the story of many others in the same situation.

100th Street: Tanya Ahmed

This video was enlightening on many levels, Tanya’s acknowledgement that she is a photographer and has always been a photographer yet working on the OCA course helped her look in a different direction to how her own style of photography changed slightly from focusing on the built environment to that of the people within the buildings. She also cleverly used another photographer as inspiration, reworking Bruce Davidson’s work of the 1950’s Her own personal involvement within the community must of been a great help when soliciting the collaboration of the residents and being given access to their homes.

The Documentary project – crowd funding

Research was directed towards several links…but as with some of the other links in the coursework some are now defunct : the 2011 BJP link in the course notes comes up page not found  and following the link to, the specialist photojournalism crowd-funding platform covered in the OCA article, takes me to a different site called Crowd Angels?

Find a Crowd Angel to guide your project. You‘ll need other stuff then just money to execute your idea. Maybe someone to cover your back. Maybe expert advice. Certainly exposure. You know what? There’s still good folks out there. You just have to find them. Our Crowd Angels will cover your back.

Kickerstarter still seem to be alive and kicking however ….

From the OCA article written by Jose:


Launched in 2009 as a web platform for funding personal creative projects, Kickstarter is the original crowd-funding concept. Thanks to Kickstarter photographer Pete Brook has been able to raise nearly $8,000 for his Prison Photography project. A worthwhile cause of universal social appeal, coupled with an intelligent marketing strategy, will allow Brook to develop his project and… put pressure through public opinion and raise awareness of the social issues he is concerned with…

Kickstarter projects are only funded if the fundraising target is met. Amazon manages donations but no money exchanges hands until the deadline for raising funds is over. It is only then that Kickstarter and Amazon get their commission – 5% and 3-5% respectively.

There are many benefits to crowd funding, not at least the fact that a photographer, completing a project others would ‘like to see’,  not only no longer has to bear the financial brunt, but they can also gauge the level of interest in the suggest idea. New forums for documentary photography are opened and work can reach many different audiences. A photographer backed by ‘the few’ could retain more editorial control than one backed by a major publisher. There are also potential rewards for sponsors, so on the surface it’s a win win situation.

Are there pitfalls?  Well further research has revealed that went bust with all the inherent difficulties:

While all photographers who successfully raised funds on the platform received the money they were owed before the company’s liquidation, a group of photographers have seen their work become hostage to’ internal divisions.

As Jose pointed out would all the projects that are worthy be overshadowed by ‘that which is comparatively trivial and self-indulgent … [or] be dangerously blurred in crowd-funding.’

His main concern was that once funded the successful documentary bidders would decide to publicise their work on a pro-bono basis resulting in a ‘surplus of quality and free documentary work.’ This indeed would be manna from heaven for editors and a kick in the teeth for professional paid photographers. As noted the quality of crowd funded work and even straight forward amateur work that you can find on the web can be outstanding.

Another pitfall I guess is being able to promote and market yourself as a commodity!

The comments on the article also threw out some other valuable links:

Personally I think crowd funding can be the way forward for many valid projects that would otherwise get overlooked.


Crowdfunding [Accessed  07 Oct 2017]

Prison Photography [Accessed  07 Oct 2017] story [Accessed  07 Oct 2017]

New forums for documentary – Post Documentary Art

The main issue between documentary and art is how a gallery positions i.e. defines the work itself.

Ignatieff (2003) stated ‘ Photography which loses sight of documentation risks becoming mannerism, while photography which loses the ambition or art loses the possibility of becoming forgettable.’

What he was possibly trying to say was that certain bodies of work put forward in a way as to be considered an art practice ‘fuses expression and information’ and has a legitimate forum within a gallery as it disseminates and articulates. A prime example given is Jim Goldberg’s Open See project which I was lucky to see in 2011. I am sure I wrote a huge review about it at the time but currently can’t find it! I know I really enjoyed the use of ephemera, different ways to display the work and how he allowed and encouraged his subjects to personalise their images by writing over the Polaroid photographs.

The title, Open See, comes from one such quote ‘in the open see [sic] there is no border.’


Listen to Jim Goldberg talking about Open See and his exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery.

Visit Goldberg’s website and reflect on how or if it works as a documentary project within the gallery space.

Open See, which was a book and an accompanying exhibition, were both part of a project about what Goldberg calls the ‘new Europeans’ – illegal immigrants, refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and eastern Europe.

Goldberg was commissioned by the Magnum photographic and began this body of work in 2003 in Greece, which at the time had an estimated two million immigrants, most of whom lived a ‘clandestine life, unable to work legally or avail themselves of even the most basic rights.’ This project won him the Henri Cartier-Bresson prize, which helped fund his subsequent travels to the various countries of origin of his subjects: Ukraine, Bangladesh, Liberia and many others.

Described as ‘documentary story telling’ he uses many formats – Polaroids, photographs, video stills, found images and hand-written texts –  all which go towards creating ‘a fragmented narrative that fractures the received conventions of reportage or straight documentary.’

Goldberg explains

Since 1970, I’ve been using text and ephemera as well as photographs in order to tell stories of one kind or another,There’s a thread that runs through all the work that is to do with bearing witness. The photographs are about asking questions, though, not answering them. I’m not a politically radical person. In fact, I’m much more interested in being radical aesthetically.

So does this project work in a gallery setting? Is it documentary or is it art? Is it appropriate to consider documentary photography as art?

Open See does not come across as documentary in the traditional sense, although I strongly believe it is a documentary project; it highlights global issues that need to still be resolved and gave voice to usually invisible individuals. It could be considered to be overly artistic in the way it was created and presented, but the original intent was to inform and make people question rather than to be pieces of art to be hung on the wall, and be admired for aesthetic reasons alone.

Photography and photography as art has become more accessible. No matter how much we dislike the ‘commodification’  of documentary photography it does generate much needed funds for new projects and allows photographers to self- fund if necessary.  This I feel does make the gallery a valid setting for documentary work and Open See, in my opinion, works brilliantly as both Documentary and Art.


Open See at TPG [Accessed 29/09/2017]

Open See [Accessed 29/09/2017]   [Accessed 29/09/2017]

New forums for documentary – Post documentary Photography, Art and Ethics


Read the article ‘Images that Demand Consummation: Postdocumentary Photography, Art and Ethics’ by Ine Gevers (Documentary Now! 2005).

Summarise in your learning log the key points made by the author.

The article was broken into different sub-headings so I will respond likewise.


Main points –

  • Documentary photography is a tradition with its own history and reflection.
  • Since the Seventies there has been such a blurring of boundaries
  • In today’s post-media age,  should there be a new label of ‘post-documentary photography. ‘
  • What is the ethical stance of the photographers?


Main points –

  • Aesthetics is a complicated concept, and needs much clarification and examination.
  • Looked at etymologically, aesthetics has an ethical foundation.
  • Aesthetics and ethics are intertwined. Aesthetics growing from ‘ethics of perception’ into ‘a concept that appeared to be more and more autonomous and was no longer accountable to anything or anybody.’
  • Ethics and aesthetics is a contentious issue with ‘The media merely see ethics and aesthetics as antitheses.’ ‘Thoughts about beauty and truth seem to have ended in stalemate.’
  • ‘Faded aesthetics’ (a new sub-label?) can be ‘presumptuous, elitist, arrogant, undemocratic and even fascistic at times.’ it ‘judges, censures, discriminates, stereotypes and restricts.’
  • Aesthetics has become dogmatic and can cause more harm than good.
  • Postdocumentary photographers, filmmakers and artists question if their work can be defined on an ethical instead of purely an aesthetic perspective
  • Oscar van Alphen is cited as being influenced by Barthes, Foucault and Bataille, and  turning away from aesthetics.

Photography: objective, aesthetic, colonial

  • Photography opens up our world, enlarges our awareness, creates knowledge and makes everyone share in experiences
  • Photographic images, whether they are documents, snapshots or works of art, can turn people into objects. Introducing cliche and the ‘numbing of our conscience’ – Susan Sontag
  • Documentary rather than being a mirror to reality too often is used as a tool for propaganda and indoctrination.
  • Documentary photography  too often supports the ‘status quo of oppressive institutions and practices.’
  • Documentary film and photography are being harshly viewed in light of  post-colonialism.
  • ‘Representation in its totality is in a crisis’ – possibly a little over dramatic in tone?


  • Gevers links photography to scientific disciplines, archiving and research
  • Postulates that American artist, writer and activist Martha Rosler is not a documentary photographer herself but uses documentary photography in her work. Subverting ‘qualities as factuality, veracity and objectivity in relation to both the photographic image and the word.’
  • Rosler introduces the idea that photographs alone are incomplete, inconsistent and inadequate ‘descriptive documents’ embrace different disciplines and media, also collaborative projects with people.
  • Gevers discusses Allan Sekula, who has ‘appropriated documentary photography as his domain’ yet ‘opts more consciously for a recognisable aesthetic approach,’ focusing on ‘social, cultural and political-economic developments in today’s (post)capitalist society. The photographic work never stands by itself.’


Representation – interpretation – counter-presentation

  • Photographic documents can be turned into commodities which can be distasteful given some of the subject matter, being ‘distorted’ by presentation e.g. The Killing Fields
  • ‘In 1997 the Museum of Modern Art in New York exhibited a selection of the S-21 portraits, oblivious to their problematic role in the politics of representation. Elaborating on an existing tradition, the photographs were selected and presented on humanitarian grounds. The public, however, regarded the photographs as art, an aesthetic appreciation that was nurtured with no shame whatsoever.’
  • A more recent example would be images from Abu Ghraib prison, ‘which were sent out into the world like trophies.’

Alienation as strategy

  • The reaction of the art world to the attack on the Twin Towers was a mix of shock but impotence
  • The awareness of the aesthetic impacted on what to show and how to show it
  • More and more filmmakers are turning to deliberately not showing images, a tactic that goes back to Guy Debord’s 1952 film without images, Howls for Sad.
  • Alfredo Jaar (1994) travelled Rwanda and took thousands of photographs following the mass slaughters – later, he made an installation Real Pictures. The installation contained many photographs from Rwanda, but only one could actually be seen. The rest lay in piles of closed black boxes.

‘The artist’ in aesthetic terms

  • More philosophy from Alain Badiou, ‘the artist’ is someone ‘who feels the necessity to pursue a personal truth and to remain faithful to it in spite of considerable opposition. According to this argument, being an artist and ethics are inextricably bound up with each other.’
  • Truth is not something that can be communicated

Personal is political

  • Gevers returns to Rosler and an argument that ‘photographers and artists have shifted their attention to ‘the small’, the personal. Their goal, it seems, is no longer to change the world but to know it.’
  • The Atlas Group’s pictures show how, on the basis of personal experience, truths can be formed and put into context in such a way that the viewer can supplement them with his/her own experiences and observations.
  • Photographs themselves have no weight. Only those images acquire meaning that have it in themselves to unleash such a truth-process
  • It is up to the viewer as co-author to give weight to the image – Barthes punctum


Wow…ok…lots of insights and having to pick between examples to get to the main points which seem to be that ethics and aesthetics collide a lot in documentary photography, that don’t believe everything you see, everyone has an agenda…messages can be put across in many ways. The interpretation of the image is the responsibility of the viewer and when this is realised ‘only then can an image, a documentary photograph, a written intervention, a staged situation, give the other the opportunity to become involved and engrossed.’


Gevers, I. (2005) ‘Images that Demand Consummation: Postdocumentary Photography, Art and Ethics’ in Documentary Now!

New forums for documentary – The Documentary Project

Research Point

Research the current activities of Photovoice and some of their archived projects.

PhotoVoice’s vision is for a world in which everybody has the opportunity to represent themselves and tell their own story

If you want to know why Photography in particular they also give the answer to this.

Photography is a highly flexible tool that crosses cultural and linguistic barriers, and can be adapted to all abilities. Its power lies in its dual role as both art form and way to record facts.

It provides an accessible way to describe realities, communicate perspectives, and raise awareness of social and global issues.

Its low cost and ease of dissemination encourages sharing and increases the potential to generate dialogue and discussion.

The aim of this research is to look at the ‘the documentary value and visual qualities’ of the images produced, but it was also interesting to look deeply into the charitable organisation, especially at their aims, ensuring that they:

  • Design and develop projects specific to communities, issues and needs, and based on engagement with them
  • Promote the imagery produced from the projects utilising media, events and exhibitions
  • Provide consultancy, training, materials and resources to organisations wishing to use participatory photography in their work

They also have a statement of ethical  practice.

Every project they have participated in is visible via their projects link. Whilst not every image undertaken for that specific project may not be available on their site you can research further and discover more at individual links.

Without diving too much into the ethics or consequence of the projects I found this article which summed up or mentioned many of the issues previously covered within the course e.g representing a different culture without being stereotypical, ethics and possible exploitation, making the ugly look beautiful, environmental issues and wanting to campaign to change something,  using ‘people, landscape and still life to convey the true and often unheard story,’ the use of social media and different mediums to convey a message, although as yet I don’t think the images were taken by the indigenous population.


Continue reading “New forums for documentary – The Documentary Project”

New forums for documentary – Contemplating documentary

Reading this section I had to consider the ’emergence of the art gallery as a valid forum for showing documentary photographs.’ Does displaying them in such a manner give them a ‘quality of an art object’ which in some instances would be wrong eg famine, war, disasters…

The issue of ethics and aesthetics comes to the fore.

Exercise The judgement Seat of Photography (in Bolton, 1992, pp.15-48)

Read the article ‘The Judgment Seat of Photography’ (Christopher Phillips 1982)

Add to your learning log the key research materials referenced in the text.

A long and fairly complex essay on the topic of photography as art looking at MoMA, Walter Benjamin The Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction, John Szarkowski, “Photography and the Private Collector,” Aperture, vol. 15, no. 2 (Summer
1970), n.p. , to reference the first 2 key research points.

Phillips opens his discussion with the ways of looking at art; cult value and exhibition value leading onto the value of a piece due to its perceived authenticity. Photography altered the availability and accessibility of many of these objects. Apparently a Theodor Adorno did not share all of Benjamin’s ideas on the subject.

We then are introduced more to the role of MoMA in photographic history.

From the time of MoMA’s opening in 1929, photography received the
museum’s nodding recognition as one branch of modernist practice, doubtless
spurred by MoMA director Alfred H. Barr, Jr.’s awareness of the photographic
activity of the European avant-garde. The first showings of photography at the
museum resulted, however, from the intermittent enthusiasms of Lincoln
Kirstein, then one of the most active members of the MoMA Junior Advisory
Committee. It was Kirstein who, with Julian Levy, in 1932, arranged the first
exhibition to feature photographs (in this case giant photomurals by Steichen
and Berenice Abbott, among others) in “Murals by American Painters and
Photographers.” The next year, Kirstein sponsored the showing of photographs
of American Victorian houses by his friend Walker Evans -a project Kirstein
had conceived and personally financed. Until 1935, however, the date of
Beaumont Newhall’s arrival as librarian (replacing Iris Barry, who now headed
the new Film Department), no MoMA staff member spoke with authority for
photography’s interests.6

Newhall’s exhibition, “Photography 1839-1937,” is usually cited as a crucial step in the acceptance of photography as a full-fledged museum art. Art museums had been set apart from history or science museums and supposedly provided ‘joy not knowledge.’ Which could explain an ingrained mistrust of taking photography as a ‘serious’ medium when displayed in such venues.

Phillips informs us that: ‘Newhall’s exhibition is frankly uninterested in the old question of photography’s status among the fine arts; rather, it signaled MoMA’s recognition that implicit in photography’s adoption by the European avant-garde was a new outlook on the whole spectrum of photographic applications.’  Despite his obvious interest in photography he refused to acknowledge ‘photography’s place among the fine arts.’  Lewis Mumford is cited as stating:

Perhaps it is a little ungrateful for me to suggest that the Museum of Modern Art has begun to overreach itself in the matter of documentation.. . . What is lacking in the present exhibition is a weighing and an assessment of photography in terms of pure aesthetic merit – such an evaluation as should distinguish a show in an art museum
from one that might be held, say, in the Museum of Science and Industry.
In shifting this function onto the spectator, the Museum seems to me to be adding unfairly to his burden. . . .

Later when it was announced that Edward Steichen was to be appointed as Director of Photography Newhall said:

I just didn’t see that we could be colleagues. It was as simple as that. My interests were increasingly in the art of photography; his were increasingly in the illustrative use of photography, particularly in the swaying of great masses of people.

This was indeed the case as Steichen really didn’t care ‘ for photography conceived as an autonomous fine art.’

It could be argued that Steichen and the exhibitions he curated, for example Family of Man, elevated the role of the curator above that of the photographer, something that John Szarkowski is often accused of.  Steichen’s installations were also novel, drawing comparisons with magazine layouts rather than art galleries and accused of ‘sheer manipulation.’ Allan Sekula, ‘The Traffic in Photographs,’ Art Journal, vol. 41, no. 1 (Spring 1981), supposedly had quite a bit to say on the subject.

This changing role of the photographer from ‘autonomous artist to that of illustrator of (another’s) ideas marked the entire range of Steichen’s exhibitions at MoMA’  Up and coming photographers, at this time focused mainly on magazines for their livelihood, even the most renowned artist-photographers were selling their work for no more than fifteen to twenty-five dollars per print. At the 1950 MoMA symposium, ‘What Is Modern Photography?’ Irving Penn stated: ‘for the modern photographer the end product of his efforts is the printed page, not the photographic print. . . The modern photographer does not think of photography as an art or of his photograph as an art object.’ Showing that not all were happy to have their work adorn the walls of a museum.

John Szarkowski followed Steichen taking a different approach to his predecessor, returning to the ‘cult value’ of photography, ‘he represented an aestheticising reaction against Steichen’s identification of photography with mass media.’

His seminal work The Photographer’s Eye (1964) is frequently referred to and he had no fear in introducing controversial photographers such as Arbus, Winogrand, Friedlander and Eggleston, to the art critics.

It was also noted that:

Szarkowski’s ambitious program for establishing photography in its own
aesthetic realm has been set forth explicitly in no single work, but arrived at
piecemeal in a series of slender essays over the last twenty years. His project
has followed, I think, three main lines. These include: (1) the introduction of a
formalist vocabulary theoretically capable of comprehending the visual structure
(the “carpentry”) of any existing photograph; (2) the isolation of a modernist
visual “poetics” supposedly inherent to the photographic image; and (3) the
routing of photography’s “main tradition” away from the (exhausted) Stieglitz/
Weston line of high modernism and toward sources formerly seen as peripheral
to art photography.


The role of curator is highly emphasised throughout the essay and the question must be asked with regards to the final display and  authorial decisions on inclusion/exclusion. On attending talks and study days where photographers have been present it has been interesting to note how many wanted to be hands on, were allowed to be hands on and those who just sent photographs along, am thinking of the Female Avant Garde compared to Edmund Clarke.

In any event any photograph within the walls of a gallery, online or in a publication can be taken out of context. Szarkowski himself stated:’To quote out of context is the essence of the photographer’s craft.’ (1964: 70).

Comparing curators to editors the power of choice lands firmly with the editor and a major difference between editor and curator has to be their objectives; illustrating a news piece versus the attempt to convey a larger visual communication through ‘art’. Never the less no matter the role, both become an ‘orchestrator of meaning’ (Phillips 1982).

This essay raises as many questions as it answers, but does give a lot of reasons as to why and how photography ended up in galleries and is often presented the way it is, especially when considering Documentary photography. Raising the ethics issue again and is there a difference between they portrayal of these images between a gallery or museum. I think there is, museums, on the whole, exhibit work to educate whereas work in a gallery is purely there to be bought and sold. Having said that the number ofmuseums that now host photographic exhibitions is on the increase and they sell a lot of merchandise if not the actual photographs! Gallery’s also encourage people to browse, often allow photographs to be taken of the work on the walls and you can get in for free! I have looked around more gallery shows than museum exhibitions…

Many photographers encourage the tag of fine art, Steve McCurry and Edward Burtynsky come to mind, as does Luc Delahaye. Much of the money raised does go onto the next project and the raising of awareness of certain issues but not all. Who am I in some ways to judge a person earning a living, if people are prepared to pay the money that is down to them. As covered in other posts I do feel uneasy to think of the profits made off the back of others’ suffering.

In conclusion the movement of photography from publications and galleries to museums is valid and does have exhibition value.

In response to making note of key research materials, there were 81 footnotes many seemed to be brief acknowledgments to minor points made. I have commented on notable people, events and essays in my response to the essay but others missed could include:

Jean Baudrillard, L’Echange symbolique et la mort, Paris, Editions Gallimard, 1976, pp. 85-88.

The Adorno-Benjamin correspondence has been published in Aesthetics and Politics, London,New Left Books, 1977

Walter Benjamin, “A Short History of Photography,” trans. Stanley Mitchell, Screen, vol.13, no. 1 (Spring 1972), 6.

America in Modern Times, New York, Reynal and Hitchcock, 1934

Benjamin Ives Gilman, Museum Ideals, Cambridge,Mass., 1918.

R. Child Bayley’s remarkably brief “Photography Before Stieglitz,” in America and Alfred Stieglitz, New York, The Literary Guild, 1934, pp. 89-104.

Lewis Mumford, “The Art Galleries,” The New Yorker, April 3, 1937, p. 40.

Herbert Bayer, “Fundamentals of Exhibition Design,” PM, December/January 1939/40

Edward Steichen, “Photography and the Art Museum,” in Museum Service (Bulletin of the
Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences), June 1948, p. 69.

Allan Sekula, “The Traffic in Photographs,” Art Journal, vol. 41, no. 1 (Spring 1981)

John Szarkowski, “Photography and Mass Media,” Aperture, vol. 13, no. 3 (1967), n.p.

Hilton Kramer “Anxiety about the Museumization of Photography,” New York Times,July 4, 1976

Abigail Solomon-Godeau “Tunnel Vision,” in Print Collectors’ Newsletter, vol.
12, no. 6 (January-February 1982)

Peter Galassi, Before Photography, New York, MoMA, 1981, p. 17


Phillips, C. (1982) ‘The Judgement Seat of Photography’ in October, Vol 22 (Autumn 1982) pp 27–63

Benjamin, W. (1969) ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’ trans. Harry Zohn,in Illuminations, New York: Schocken Books.

New Forums for Documentary

Exercise Cruel + Tender

The first major exhibition at the Tate dedicated exclusively to photography, giving a ‘stamp of approval’ to documentary photography as a ‘legitimate medium’ with a rightful place within a gallery.

Read the brochure and watch the videos below

Interviews with Rineke Dijkstra and Fazel Sheikh

The brochure is a teachers and leaders kit with information re group visits, but it is very good at reminding us of documentary photography basics with historical and critical context, including photography’s impact on modern art. The suggested book list is one that could come in very handy.

It also serves to remind us how photography gained more attention through the wide use of exhibitions and mentions William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus who exhibited together.

The teaching kit brochure and exhibition covered several themes:

  • Portraiture and the representation of people through photography
  • The difficulty in sustaining/producing documentary truth
  • The role of the audience, what baggage do we bring?
  • The use of a series of photographs and how they are read

A quote I found relevant to many of the topics already discussed in the earlier coursework was from Charles Caffin (1901):

“There are two distinct roads in photography – the utilitarian and the aesthetic: the goal of the one being a record of facts, and the other an expression of beauty.”

The text goes on to inform us:

A third, more conceptual approach was introduced by the avant-garde of the early twentieth century (for example ManRay with his invented rayograms, Moholy Nagy, Hannah Hoch with her photo montage work, again not represented in this show). These artists tried to disrupt ideas of representing figurative ‘reality’.

It would appear that the exhibition title comes from a description of Walker Evans’ work, by Lincoln Kirstein in 1933, as possessing a ‘tender cruelty’. Apparently he was ‘referring to the way Evans’ images were spare and factual, and yet also suggested Evans’ strong interest, even passion for his subject matter.’

The exhibition was very successful in bringing photography to the fore and legitimising the genre of Documentary once more as an important genre of visual communication.

Rineke Dijkstra

Rineke Dijkstra is a photographer I have been aware of for some time.

Dijkstra concentrates on single portraits, and usually works in series, looking at groups such as adolescents, clubbers, and soldiers. Her subjects are shown standing, facing the camera, against a minimal background. The raw immediacy of these images captures something of the contradictions inherent in this common and yet most singular of human experiences. The women appear at once vulnerable and invincible, traumatised and self-composed. Dijkstra draws a parallel between the two groups of photographs. Both bullfighters and mothers are pictured after an exhausting and potentially life-threatening experience, relating to society’s deepest-held ideas of masculinity and femininity.

Here she explains how both sets of images came about and her decision of why they were displayed together, and her ‘lack of control’ at the moment of capturing the images, The difference between male/female protectors/fighters. Why she isolates her subjects and not wanting to reveal too much detail. The reactions of others to how she was portraying men as shaken and not macho heroes, and the women looking unsettled and in a ‘just given birth’ state – links a bit to my essay!

There were some similarities in the shots, for example the aesthetics and images were of people in the aftermath of scary, life-threatening situations.

All reminders of the importance of photographing thing that make you feel emotion, are slightly different from the norm and having a distinctive photographic style.

Fazal Sheikh

Is a new photographer to me.

Sheikh’s interest in photographing refugee communities began after he visited Kenya in the early 1990s and documented the refugee camps near the border with Somalia. He treats his subjects as individuals, identifying them by name, and writing texts that explain the political circumstances that forced them to leave their home. Before taking photographs, he spends weeks living in the camps, giving his work a genuine depth and engagement.

His video interview was interesting to me as he also highlighted some of the ethical questions raised previously with regard to how Western media portray certain countries or situations. He described being angered at the way Somali refugees were being portrayed in America. His personal, firsthand knowledge of the areas being covered gave him the insight that there was more of a story to be told than what was being represented in the press.

He also revealed the aspect of following up on a project several years later can produce another body of work that is equally as valid. Similar in some respects to the project by Dana Lixenberg of Imperial Courts, although her project was over 22 years not a period of 8!

Sheikh had a different approach as well, he used a Polaroid camera and had discussions with the people on who should be photographed and how.  I liked how he felt that text was important as well as the imagery and that in certain circumstances the images cannot tell the whole story.


Cruel + Tender [accessed 28/09/2017]

Rineke Dijkstra [accessed 28/09/2017]

Fazal Sheikh [accessed 28/09/2017]