New perspectives on the art of documentary photography

Like many digital resources, this one was created both of a need to fill a void and the love of a subject. There are very few digital publications that deal specifically or exclusively with documentary photography[1] and the documentary form. If they do exist, they’re either long outdated, poorly written and presented, or the information is buried under vaguely related content.

There are countless sites dedicated to the presentation of documentary photo work, but this one is dedicated to the art of producing documentary work. Here you’ll find material that is always related to the practice of documentary photography, not just the photography itself. It will address fundamental and advanced aspects of documentary photography illustrated by carefully chosen examples of existing work.

A Resource for Documentary Photographers & other Storytellers

The content published here is created for a specific audience. The articles, photos, and video are geared toward those who want to use photography to document people, places, and events to tell about a part of the world that’s important to them somehow. Those people include: photographers; videomakers and filmmakers; long-form journalists and photojournalists; and non-profit or non-government (NGOs) organizations.

The audience could also be extended to include those who want to discover the role contemporary documentary media plays in a world where it is increasingly difficult to assemble an accurate picture of a situation, a place, or a people. Today, even the most trusted sources of information are called into question as media concerns are decimated by diminishing resources, so efforts in the documentary sphere must mitigate that growing mistrust. In that way, the role of documentary makers will rapidly evolve in its role to fill a void.

The Agenda

The agenda is to explore the documentary form particularly as it concerns photography and, by extension, film and video. It aims to educate people about the theory and practice of storytelling with images. It will help solve the problems documentary photographers encounter in their work.

One area of focus will be the intersection between documentary work, activism, and propaganda. It’s well understood that many, if not most, documentary projects are started by people and organizations as way to shed light on an issue they feel needs attention. Inherent in that drive is the natural tendency to lean in the direction that upholds a point of view. Because there is always an inescapable political bias brought to bear on the subject by a documentary maker’s life experience and world view, it’s always important to ask whether should be considered a documentary, a work of activism, or disguised propaganda?

What this site won’t cover in depth is the technical aspects of photography. I’ll assume that if you’ve discovered this site, you have a fundamental understanding of how to use a camera. There are endless sites and online courses that teach photographers and filmmakers about exposure, composition, frame rates, and editing. I’ll publish my favourites on these topics in a post in the near future.

Content Breakdown & Publishing Schedule

Some of the subjects you’ll find on this documentary photography blog are:

Concepts: posts in this category will help shape a definition of the ever evolving field of documentary photography, not just in relation to its current role, but in relation to its history too. Photography was used to make pictures of the world long before it was used in any commercial or purely artistic way, but there are many different styles of photography that fit the documentary genre. Concepts and theory in this vein are discussed beginning with questions like, “Why are we compelled to document our world?”

Storytelling: creating meaningful, effective, compelling narratives through imagery is powerful, but it requires know-how and efforts well beyond merey composing the shot. Storytelling requires access. It requires disciplined editing and arrangement. It needs proper captioning, if not supporting copy too. And feedback for documentary photographers is vital to their growth. Through this site, I’ll offer reviews of photo essays and documentary projects to those who are in the midst of working on large projects.

Tactics: Documentary photography involves much more than just hitting the streets with your camera. The kind of documentary photography discussed here requires research, access to hard-to-reach people and places, trust-bulding, and funding. Each of these aspects of documentary photography takes time to develop, and the resources here will help.

Criticism: One of the best ways to learn any art form is to look at the work of photographers in the field. I’ll address the good, but also at the not so good. That’s where criticism can be extremely valuable. In examining the work of others, including that by the mainstream media and independent photographers, we can find strengths and weaknesses that can help guide our work.

Masters: Germane to posts about others photographers’ work, articles on the masters of photography will be useful in exploring all the other topics mentioned here. Posts that look at the work and careers of photographers like Josef Koudelka, Sebastiao Salgado, and Mary Ellen Mark will touch on all the aspects of documentary work and serve to illustrate strong approaches to the art.

Articles and posts will be published once a week, but take note: I’m also a working documentary photographer and videomaker so there are times when publishing frequency may be irregular. You can always subscribe to the newsletter through the form on this page or the Contact page to be notified about new content when it’s published.

Staying connected

Staying connected with this site (and me) is easy. Just subscribe to my email list. And even though I’ll likely publish several posts a month, you’re only likely to get emails once a month, so don’t worry about being bombarded. And, of course, if you subscribe, you can unsubscribe anytime. Please read my privacy policy which guarantees that you’re email address will never be shared or sold to anyone. Ever. So please enter your email address in the form below and you’ll get the goods sent straight to your inbox.

The Form


Or you can visit the site when you want. Bookmark it. And if you’re really hardcore, you can grab the RSS feed and get the content that way.

You’ll be able to share the content easily enough. Even though I don’t use social media, there will be share links on every article and every photo, so sending content on will be really easy.

And if you ever feel like sending me an email or giving me a call, you can do that too.

And eventually there will be a community forum to inspire conversation and dialogue, so please keep your eyes open for that.

Coda: The Longer Vision

This site is also part of a larger vision and objective.

Journalism has long been under threat, and in far too many places in the world, including North America, the free media is under legitimate attack. The reasons for this are myriad, and many of those reasons will be the spark of conversation here. What it means, ultimately, is that the importance of documentary work, all documentary work in all mediums, is more important than ever.

Thus, the more people and organizations who have the skills and desire to do this kind of work properly, the more change — social, political, and economic — concerned citizens can engender by telling the important stories that can have real, meaningful influence on the lives of the people and places whose stories need to be told. This site aims to support this effort.



Notes

  1. While this site is dedicated primarily to documentary photography, content will extend to documentary film and video on occasion.