Question: What was your idea of documentary photography before you worked on Part One? How would you now sum it up?
My idea of documentary photography related mainly to newspaper news photographs and feature articles with accompanying photographs as typically found in the magazine supplement of Sunday newspapers. I would sum it up by saying that my assumption was that photographs were always included to show an indisputable ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ of any situation or event.
Question: What are the differences between documentary, reportage, photojournalism and art photography?
There is no clear distinction between documentary, reportage, photojournalism and art photography, there is considerable overlap between the various forms.
‘Documentary’ could be considered as an overall category containing many sub-categories. But the term documentary is difficult to define. For example Abigail Solomon Godeau has said: ‘What is documentary photograph? With equal justice one might respond by saying “just about everything” or alternatively, “just about nothing”’ (Solomon Godeau, 1991). And again, ‘Documentary has been described as a form, a genre, a tradition, a style, a movement and a practice; it is not useful to try to offer a single definition of the word’ (Wells, 2004, 69). The critic Martha Rosler explored and illustrated some of the complexities of documentary photography in her essay ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts (on documentary photography)’ (Rosler, 1981).
Because of the often strong overlap between the different forms of documentary photography the works of the above critics and others are discussed in my Learning Blog entries related to several documentary sub-categories (Blog pages listed below):
‘Reportage’: ‘A style of photography that attempts to tell a story, reveal things or explain the lives of people generally through a series of related images’ (La Grange, 2005:244). There are three entries in my Learning Blog related to Reportage photography:
‘Photojournalism’: ‘Photojournalism and documentary are linked by the fact that they claim to have a special relationship to the real; that they give us an accurate and authentic view of the world’ (Wells, 2004:71).
There are four entries in my Learning Blog related to Photojournalism:
‘Art photography’ :
Contemporary art photography has a number of tangled strands that are difficult to tease apart and often overlap in the work of a single image maker. The different practices are categorized partly by way they look and also by the constantly shifting ways they are framed by language and institutions. As with all other forms of art, the chief characteristics that define art photography are the intensions of the maker, its similarities to other forms of art and the context in which it is presented (Soutter, 2013:2).
The relationship of art photography and documentary, especially as it related to context (above) is discussed in my Learning Blog at:
La Grange, Ashley (2005) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. Oxford: Elsevier
Rosler, M (1981) ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts (on documentary photography)’ In: Bolton, R. (ed.) The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 303-340
Solomon-Godeau, Abigail (1991) ‘Who is Speaking Thus? Some Questions about Documentary Photography’ In: Solomon-Godeau Photography at the dock: essays on photographic history, institutions, and practices. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 169-183
Soutter, Lucy (2013) Why art photography? London: Routledge
Wells, Liz (2004) Photography: A Critical Introduction Third Edition. London: Routledge