I have compiled some of my notes relating to Elizabeth McCausland’s notes found in her ‘Documentary Photograhy’ Photo Notes (1939).
The discoveries I made after reading her notes answered some questions I had regarding documentary. Although I didn’t agree with all she had to say (finding some of it showing age compared to nowadays), there were some interesting statements I found thought-provoking.
- McCausland routinely encourages the use of objective photography rather than subjective, seeing the world as a better place with photography being used in this way. An example of this encouragement for objective photography is: ‘documentary photography, an application of photography direct and realistic, dedicated to the chronicling of the external world.’ – (McCausland, 1939). This is in comparison to the ‘pattern of sterility, of ideas which could not reproduce themselves’ found in the pictorialists for example – before they turned their energy ‘to newer and more objective purposes’ – (McCausland, 1939).
- In the same breath, McCausland, while seeing favour in concentrating on reality, hints at negative associations – the ‘sober chronicling of the external world’- (McCausland, 1939).
- McCausland praises the virtues of ‘new’ documentary photography. ‘Old’ photography in the form of ‘pretty pictures’ for her have been explored, while instead documentary photographers should embrace photographing ‘life’.
- She believes that documenting the external world, the world of human beings, is honest endeavour and time better spent than photographing ‘the inner ebb and flow of consciousness’ – (McCausland, 1939).
- McCausland, acknowledging photography’s indexicality, calls for a ‘documentary ideal’.
- Her ‘documentary ideal’ would be: work that ‘must have meaning, content, must communicate and must speak to an audience.’ – (McCausland, 1939). The work should be carried out by a photographer who is objective in all aspects of their work. Basically that through working in a way such that the photographer is almost invisible, without personality, the target audience becomes more aware of the real world, whether it is a positive or negative view on the world.