Assignment 5 – Documentary – Tourism in London, And Me – Original

I have been documenting the picture-taking, particularly selfie-happy tourists who frequent London. The way I have decided to do this isn’t an accurate rendition of the scene as the photographs are no longer indexical to what was in front of the camera. Instead, I have utilised digital technologies to merge parts of multiple images into single composites. One of the conditions of optical perception inherent in photography (Eco In. Burgin, 1982) is reduced (that of juxtapositions within the frame derived from the indexical relationship of the scene and the photograph in traditional photography). However, another is given for these particular scenes. Here at these tourist hotspots I’ve created a more accurate sense of what it is like to be in these magnets for tourists with selfies being taken left, right and centre. The clutter has been removed allowing the viewer to be more immersed in what has to me become more of a spectacle than the landmarks themselves. That is the spectacle of the spectacle – the unconscious performance by tourists of mass picture-taking from similar viewpoints with myself recording this spectacle in a cohesive manner. ‘The spectacle that falsifies reality is nevertheless a real product of that reality’ – (Debord, 1967). I would argue this quote could be applied to the composites I’ve created which have been drawn from reality.

I’ve taken the images from the perspective of an outsider looking in, even though I would call myself more of an insider as this is my home city. As such I have repeated the images produced for each hotspot with myself imitating the tourists’ poses in front of the landmarks. ‘real life is materially invaded by the contemplation of the spectacle, and ends up absorbing it and aligning itself with it.’ – (Debord, 1967). I wanted to establish my own relationship to the tourists. This was that materially there was no relationship but within the pseudo-world of images I could assert my presence. This represents myself interacting with the tourists retrospectively. I have previously noted that tourists tend to reassure themselves when in unfamiliar places by simply taking pictures. Susan Sontag writes on tourism: ‘As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of a space in which they are insecure.’ – (Sontag, 1977). Using this line of thinking, just like the tourists picture-taking at the hotspots were doing as a kind of souvenir of their experience as outsiders looking in, I also used picture-taking as an outsider looking in, except the subject of my pictures were the tourists and their performance in front of the landmarks. My picture-taking too was a kind of reaction towards something I felt slightly unsure about.

Finally for this project, I took selfies and photos similar to what the tourists would have taken from the same position they (and I, retrospectively) had assumed in the composites I’d put together. For me this reaffirmed my experience in relation to the tourists; producing something tangible from a relationship I’d never been able to put my fingers on up until now.

Photograph 1 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 2 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 3 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 4 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 5 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 6 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 7 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 8 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 9 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 10 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 11 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 12 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 13 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 14 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And MePhotograph 15 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me


Debord, G. (1967). Society of the Spectacle. 3rd ed. London: Rebel Press, pp. 7-8.

Eco, U. In. Burgin, V. (1982) Thinking About Photography. London: MacMillan.

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 12.

Assignment 4 – Documentary – Critical Review Original

Does the type of aesthetic approach employed by the photographer affect the accessibility of the work to an audience?


Aesthetics are a key attribute of a photograph. They affect the reader’s gaze and so photographers are faced with the question of whether to make their photographs aesthetically-pleasing or gritty and true-to-life. What constitutes ‘aesthetically-pleasing’ or ‘gritty and true-to-life’ is a very subjective topic though, due to the fact that each viewer’s taste for pleasing aesthetics varies. ‘Judging beauty and other aesthetic qualities of photographs is a highly subjective task.’ – (Datta, Joshi, Li, Wang, 2006). Although this is a subjective task, by using a computational approach it has been possible to see ‘there exist certain visual properties which make photographs, in general, more aesthetically beautiful.’ – (Datta, Joshi, Li, Wang, 2006). Therefore although aesthetics are subjective, they do conform somewhat to a standard. It is our natural inclination to make aesthetically-pleasing photographs too: ‘Except for those situations in which the camera is used to document, or to mark social rites, what moves people to take photographs is finding something beautiful.’ – (Sontag, 1977). The intended usage of the photograph is one factor to take into account because it can dictate whether a photograph is used to document or to find something beautiful.

Certain photographers combine these two disciplines (documenting and finding something beautiful) to express powerfully their vision and one such photographer is Sebastião Salgado. ‘In their strong formal design, Salgado’s pictures revive photographic modernism with its emphasis on geometry and visual contrast. Beauty is pressed into the service of an old-fashioned humanism…’ – (Stallabrass, 1997). This description of his photographic approach shows Salgado’s strong aesthetics but also hints at his moral code when taking these photographs. Although he has been very successful in his projects, he has also been criticised by some for the beauty inherent in even his most haunting photojournalistic photographs. One prominent critic of Salgado’s ‘aestheticisation’ of suffering was Ingrid Sischy. She argued that ‘this beautification of tragedy results in pictures that ultimately reinforce our passivity toward the experience they reveal.’ – (Sischy, 1991). By combining documenting something factual with the aestheticising of these facts, Salgado is in fact detracting from the photographs’ message in terms of their power to portray the truth of what they depict.


Fig. 1. © Sebastião Salgado (1983) Children playing with animals bones, Brazil
Fig. 1. © Sebastião Salgado (1983) Children playing with animals bones, Brazil


I would agree on a base level that the viewer of such photographs (Salgado’s beautiful documents) is more likely to be distracted from the message because of the aesthetics than had the photographs simply aimed to portray ‘the truth’. For example with Fig. 1, (Mraz, 2002) makes the point that: ‘The photo’s psychological tone is set by the solemn expressions on the children’s faces and their prostration on the floor’. In my eyes though the ethereal lighting from solely the open doorway with the strong tones of light and dark created from this (especially on the bones themselves) capture and divert my attention for far longer. However, I would also then suggest the critic of such an argument – that Salgado’s aesthetics distract from the message – is missing a vital point. Salgado’s projects clearly reach a great audience and in this regard at least he has been successful. If his works’ aesthetics were not so powerful and beautiful would his work have reached so massive an audience? Therefore perhaps Salgado is looking at the wider picture in so far as getting a message across, even if it means aestheticising the facts.

So far I have only been concerned with superficial aesthetics of photography as this is the foremost feature people get to when looking at photographs. Photographs can also be regarded as beautiful beneath their outward appearance and I would assert that this gives such photographs more liability to possess deeper meaning once the message has been uncovered. A photographer I have recently been to an exhibition of: Thomas Ruff springs to mind as an example where the work is not immediately beautiful (at least to my eye) but instead the viewer has to read into the work to find beautiful meanings within the work. One of his most famous projects: Portraits 1986-1991 (see Fig. 2) employs several strategies to enable the viewer to find meaning within the work which I myself found beautiful. Showing Fig. 2 in this size on my blog felt like I was doing a disservice to the impact the enormous print has on the viewer when looking at it in a gallery. On the other hand the superficial aesthetics were not particularly pleasing to the eye; the photographs depicting the blank expressions of people Ruff knew from those years. However, this is part of the ruse where Ruff produces these massive prints of vacant faces, enticing the viewer to wonder why they are printed so monumentally big when they are just like passport pictures. Unearthing the message beneath – for me it was that the passport style pictures allow the viewer their own interpretation of the sitter which is ultimately a contrived one – was a rewarding experience.


Fig. 2. © Thomas Ruff (1988) Porträt (P. Stadtbäumer)
Fig. 2. © Thomas Ruff (1988) Porträt (P. Stadtbäumer)


Although I picked up on this meaning somewhat by myself I still had to back up my assertions from another source – ‘a portrait by Ruff looks like a very large passport photograph. … Any personality a sitter may have is there because you, the viewer, have projected your own feelings and prejudices on to the image.’ – (Dorment, 2003). In my opinion this gaining of understanding, while rewarding, is also less immediate and has less widespread ‘appeal’ than the superficially beautiful work of, for example Salgado. Because the reader has to search for the beauty embedded inside rather than on the surface, more casual readers may not bother gaining understanding from work like Ruff’s, where the aesthetics are imbued within. Looking at this from an aesthetic point of view it would be possible to argue that both draw from the vernacular: Ruff playing upon it intentionally by taking all the ‘accidental’ elements out of the traditional vernacular and using them to his advantage like with his Portraits 1986-1991 project (see Fig. 2). On the other hand, Salgado employs telling juxtapositions (like the children juxtaposed with the bones in Fig. 1) and combines this with selective framing and often dramatic, otherworldly lighting. All of this becomes unified because Salgado continues to utilise the black and white medium. Although this might seem like the opposite of traditional vernacular imagery – where colourful, seemingly accidental snapshots are prevalent, looking closer it seems Salgado has culminated the ingredients of the vernacular into a more sophisticated version.


Fig. 3. Photograph 4 - Assignment 3 - Documentary
Fig. 3. Photograph 4 – Assignment 3 – Documentary


I have until recently always given slight precedence to the superficial aesthetics attribute of my photography and in part it has defined the images I’ve produced for my projects. In hindsight this was perhaps an attempt to move it away from the vernacular type imagery pervading social media. With Assignment 3 – Documentary (see Fig. 3) I turned my attention away from my inward battle between superficial aesthetics and meaning. Instead I put my efforts into telling a convincing story; letting meaning come first and putting aesthetics to the side. Interestingly I found they were still linked as the aesthetics when consistent, combined to tell a more immersive story. However, I noticed certain photographers disregarded superficial aesthetics altogether or even deliberately to make them gritty such as Daido Moriyama. 


Fig. 4. © Daido Moriyama (1969) Eros
Fig. 4. © Daido Moriyama (1969) Eros


Moriyama at the time he was taking photos on the streets of Tokyo (in the 1960s) prescribed like the group of left-wing photographers he joined to a style developed to break away from aesthetic conventions of a ‘good’ photograph found in European and American photography. They instead employed an aesthetic that ‘was identified with the expression ‘are, bure, boke’ – grainy, blurry and out of focus, in reference to the three main characteristics that distinguished the group’s images’ – (Scaldaferri , 2017). Moriyama’s reasoning for using such gritty aesthetics (see Fig. 4) was that he was ‘Refusing the idea that the photographic medium could only be used to produce archival documents,’ instead ‘putting an accent on its image-making capability’ – (Scaldaferri , 2017). He thereby used the aesthetics of as a conduit to express his emotions about the state of Tokyo’s dark streets at that time. Moriyama was and remains very popular, influencing other photographers and young people especially in Japan: ‘The older generation appreciates a lot of Daido’s work, but right now he is very, very popular among young people’ – (Uematsu, 2012). However, the appeal of his work is not as widespread (outside of Japan) as say Salgado and I would argue this is because it does not conform to (a Western at least) standard taste for the beautiful which has been more popular. An important note this brings up is the subjectivity of aesthetics because the emotion Moriyama’s work evokes clearly affects certain viewers more than others. What I could see influencing me from Moriyama’s work would be the understanding that the process of making an image can be far more important in terms of emotion conveyed in this process than the aesthetic. Having said this, Moriyama clearly intends to go consistently for the ‘are, bure, boke’ look. For me this deliberation could be because his work transcends the traditional vernacular with the choice of black and white medium and emotion caught in the frames.



While it may be true that photographs with gritty superficial aesthetics are not as accessible as work which conforms to our standard taste for the beautiful, often there is a space for deeper meaning to be accessed by the viewer in the work. This could be whether it is intended by the photographer – by playing upon the vernacular – or not. As long as the work is consistent too the viewer may gain more from a set of photographs than a singular, glorified image. Also it may well be important to the photographer to display emotion in their photographs which in itself could be considered beautiful. In a funny kind of way photographic projects with aesthetics that don’t conform to a standard taste for the beautiful have more art value than work which doesn’t play on the vernacular or is less emotional. All of this depends on what kind of impact the photographer wishes to make and to what type of audience.

‘something considered beautiful conforms to a standard taste, whereas something considered as ugly may confront our present sensibility and bring out a new one.’ – (Fontcuberta and Feustel, 2010). While this quote by Joan Fontcuberta when talking about beauty shows that a deeper meaning or even new sensibilities may be brought out when we are faced with work that is not superficially beautiful, I would suggest it tends to lose the widespread appeal that comes from conforming to our (natural) taste for the beautiful. Yet I would also make the point that confronting our current sensibility and potentially bringing out a new sensibility may be more important to many photographers/artists. This would be especially true considering the current climate of image making where social media platforms are over saturated with similar images that conform to our standard taste for the beautiful.

Word count: 1,860


Datta R., Joshi D., Li J., Wang J.Z. (2006). Studying Aesthetics in Photographic Images Using a Computational Approach. In: Leonardis A., Bischof H., Pinz A. (eds) Computer Vision – ECCV 2006. ECCV 2006. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 3953. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

Dorment, R. (2003). PHOTOGRAPHY IN FOCUS The deadpan images created by Thomas Ruff – of nameless individuals and equally anonymous places – are masterpieces of austere neutrality. By Richard Dorment Now for something completely indifferent. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Nov. 2017].

Fontcuberta, J. and Feustel, M. (2010). Interview: Joan Fontcuberta, Landscapes without memory. [online] Marc Feustel. Available at: [Accessed 27 Nov. 2017].

Moriyama, D. (1969). Eros. [Photograph] Retrieved from: [Accessed 3 Jan. 2018].

Ruff, T. (1988). Porträt (P. Stadtbäumer). [Photograph] Retrieved from: [Accessed 12 Dec. 2017].

Salgado, S. (1983). Children playing with animals bones, Brazil. [Photograph] Retrieved from:–brazil-children-games.jpg [Accessed 12 Dec. 2017].

Scaldaferri, G. (2017). Discover The Captivating Work Of Acclaimed Japanese Photographer, Daido Moriyama. [online] Culture Trip. Available at: [Accessed 3 Jan. 2018].

Sischy, I. (1991). ‘Good Intentions’. In The New Yorker (9th Sep. 1991) [Online] Available at: [Accessed on 23 Nov. 2017].

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography, 1st ed. [ebook], Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London, WC2R ORL, England, Chapter 4, pp. 62.

Stallabrass, J. (1997). ‘Sebastião Salgado and Fine Art Journalism’. In Mraz, J. (2002). Sebastião Salgado: Ways of Seeing Latin America [Online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Dec. 2017].

Uematsu, E. (n.d.). In. Birmingham, L. (2012). “Labyrinth” by Daido Moriyama: Contacting the Urban Jungle. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Jan. 2018].

Assignment 3 Documentary – Gentrification in Deptford – Original

Through visual storytelling I have created a set of 10 photographs which aim to show gentrification in Deptford. Using various viewpoints in a landscape style I have depicted a changing Deptford from my perspective. The story progresses from a seemingly vibrant Deptford high street market continuum to portray a poorer side representing the residencies and surrounding neighbourhood.

Continuing with the development side (and opposition) to gentrification, the changes can be observed taking place, culminating with a vision of gentrified Deptford. Although sleek and contemporary, the scene is sparse for now. A resolution to this is presented in recreational use of land.

Click on the link below to see my project Gentrification in Deptford in PDF book form:

Gentrification in Deptford

You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred – Exhibition Visit

On 29/6/2017 I visited the Zabludowicz Collection to see an exhibition intriguingly called: ‘You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred’. I found it intriguingly titled because when I find myself looking at something with my eyes then surely it must have occurred? I found the exhibition to be very immersive and I felt there was a definite theme to what I was seeing.

In the exhibition introduction was a section about looking beyond the ‘decisive moment’ and onto alternative strategies to engage audiences who find the image so prevalent nowadays. Instead it proposed a slower approach to photography including appropriation, staging and manipulation of images. I was interested by the exhibition’s claim as I myself had been looking for alternative strategies to differentiate my images and was anticipative that there could be a few approaches which would help me to think about my own work in new ways.

Some of Lucas Blalock's Work at the 'You Are Looking at Somethign That Never Occurred' Exhibition
Some of Lucas Blalock’s Work at the ‘You Are Looking at Somethign That Never Occurred’ Exhibition

A major impression I was left with when visiting the exhibition was the amount the artists on show tended to play with the photographic surface and our perceptions of it. Some examples of this were Sara Cwynar with Women, 2015 where she appropriated the rather famous Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, 1907 by Pablo Picasso and covered parts of it with her fingers. Not only did this create a new meaning to the work but also introduced an element of doubt for the viewer when it was rephotographed but with something (the artist’s fingers) between the photograph and the original artwork’s surface.

A Photograph of 'Women, 2015' - Sara Cwynar
A Photograph of ‘Women, 2015’ – Sara Cwynar

Another example was Erin Shirreff’s Signatures, 2011. Here Shirreff reduced her sculptures down to blocks of tone in her photographs of them but the feature which caught my eye in the photographs were the deliberate crease down the middle of the paper. In one photograph of a sculpture the crease is bent inwards while to is bent outwards with another photograph of a sculpture. This made me wonder whether this was intentional and if so whether it was a part of the work.

A Photograph of 'Signatures, 2011' - Erin Shirreff - Showing the Outward-facing Crease Down the Middle of the Photograph
A Photograph of ‘Signatures, 2011’ – Erin Shirreff – Showing the Outward-facing Crease Down the Middle of the Photograph

xxxxxxx, 2011 by Lucas Blalock creates a 3-dimensional looking photograph by ironically rubbing out using Photoshop the one thing in the photograph that would have given it a natural appearance of depth. It was a picture of a gingham backdrop with a plastic thing in front of it but he has since rubbed out the plastic thing. The rubbing out process created the 3-d effect on the fairly uniform gingham but Blalock sees this rubbing out process as not messing around with the photograph’s surface. Instead he is ‘not really thinking about manipulating an image as much as working in the sculptural space that the photograph proposes.’ – (Blalock, 2017). This interested me because I had always thought of image manipulation as being on the surface of that image.

A Photograph of 'xxxxxxx, 2011' - Lucas Blalock
A Photograph of ‘xxxxxxx, 2011’ – Lucas Blalock

Lastly, Wolfgang Tillmans experimented with creating the illusion that a flat surface had 3-dimenisonal objects coming out of it by curling the edges of a photographic print so that it appeared to be coming out of the flat surface on truth study centre Table XVIII, 2005 – (Tillmans, 2005). I noticed these images looked more 3-dimensional from certain angles inside the exhibition room it was presented in so I took my photograph of it from that sort of angle.

A Photograph of 'truth study centre Table XVIII, 2005' - Wolfgang Tillmans
A Photograph of ‘truth study centre Table XVIII, 2005’ – Wolfgang Tillmans

In other areas of the exhibition I was impressed by the large scale prints of Thomas Ruff and especially Andreas Gursky. Gursky’s Chicago Board of Trade II, 1999 impressed me because of the level of detail on a massive scale inside the Chicago board of trade taken from a high viewpoint. I wasn’t so sure about Jeff Wall’s installation: Still Creek, Vancouver, winter 2003, 2003. It was impressive in the light box but I couldn’t see much going on in the actual depiction of the scene apart from the graffiti on the walls leading up to the tunnel. When I learnt after the exhibition that he had previously shot the creek from a similar spot but with two children playing at the tunnel entrance many years previously, the installation made a lot more sense. It was almost as though Wall was appropriating his own work, allowing the viewer to imagine perhaps that the graffiti now present at the tunnel entrance had been put there by the children before. However, without seeing the previous shot from the similar spot, I wouldn’t have made the connection so I don’t think it worked as a singular piece of art.

A Photograph of Someone Taking a Photograph of 'Chicago Board of Trade II, 1999' - Andreas Gursky
A Photograph of Someone Taking a Photograph of ‘Chicago Board of Trade II, 1999’ – Andreas Gursky

Overall, I was pleased I visited the exhibition because it offered me the chance to see a lot of varied work by some contemporary photographers who’s process of photographing was much more deliberate. This suited my own style of photography somewhat I felt and there was a lot I saw I could learn from.

A Photograph of Jeff Wall's Installation - 'Still Creek, Vancouver, winter 2003, 2003'
A Photograph of Jeff Wall’s Installation – ‘Still Creek, Vancouver, winter 2003, 2003’


You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred [Exhibition] 30th Mar – 9th Jul 2017. Zabludowicz Collection, London.

Assignment 2 – Ephemerality of the Image

By including a picture within a picture where the original has since changed in the encompassing picture, I have been creating simulacra – copies without originals. The locations (in London) are still recognisable as the same from picture-in-picture to encompassing picture but the place has in some way been altered. These alterations vary in my chosen location; from people being present in the picture-in-picture and then absent in the encompassing picture or street art having been washed away over night. The inclusion of my hand symbolises my relation to the photos and the location they were photographed in. I have chosen to display the images produced as one grid – utilising the Droste effect to further get my point across that nowadays the image is largely ephemeral. This is due to the prevalence of social media which drives the high consumption and quick turnover of image based material like photographs by other people.

Highlight of Photograph 1
Highlight of Photograph 2








Highlight of Photograph 3
Highlight of Photograph 4








Highlight of Photograph 5
Highlight of Photograph 6



Highlight of Photograph 7
Highlight of Photograph 8













Once the thumbnail has been clicked on the highlighted picture within the picture frame it will link to a high resolution image which is the corresponding image. I have linked the images like this so the viewer can get a more detailed view of each image as well as the bigger picture. Lastly I have linked the unaltered bigger picture to a high resolution version of itself.

The Bigger Picture – Ephemerality of the Image

Black and white?

Black and white affects the reading of the image and is something I was acutely aware of without ever really understanding why the effect is so different from colour.

Black and white makes the viewer more distant from the photograph, because the image is reduced down to form and structure. In other words as Henry Carroll states: ‘black and white simplifies what colour complicates’ – (Carroll, 2015). This struck a chord with me because I felt I was able to read the components of black and white photographs more easily than similar colour photographs.

Attempt at seeing in black and white 1

As a photographer you have to learn to ‘see’ in the black and white medium and not just convert it from black and white afterwards because then those forms and structures probably won’t be as pronounced as if the photographer was looking for them in the first place. This is illustrated by Henry Carroll in a book I’ve been reading called ‘Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs of People’, where he says: ‘All too often people compose their shot using the language of colour and then hope that it will translate into black and white later. Neither of these approaches work.’ – (Carroll, 2015). I have been guilty of using that approach in the past but have since experienced what Carroll observed; instead it is better to be on the look-out for shots that would look good in black and white first.

Attempt at seeing in black and white 2

In my opinion it is psychological too, as negative emotions are more easily related to in black and white. There’s something melancholy in my mind associated with black and white because it reminds us subconsciously of photography’s nature – a memory of something from reality which can’t be replaced. This makes me feel if I were to produce 8 black and white single-image narratives for assignment 2 I would be inclined to choose a more despondent theme for the photographs. On the flip side of this is the photograph’s other attribute – the potential for it to be reproduced indefinitely. This reproducibility allows the viewer to look at the black and white photograph especially with a sense of importance – this same photograph could be seen in newspapers etc and indeed had been. This would be by association – in the past black and white photographs were observed as more truthful and people had grown up with them in their culture – there was a sort of aura embedded into the collective psyche surrounding black and white photographs.

One strategy I felt would prove pointless with an optical viewfinder camera like mine was to shoot in black and white preview mode and view it on the LCD screen after the fact. While this definitely wasn’t as immersive as shooting with an EVF ‘in the present’ and viewing the scene before the camera in near-enough real-time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that before ‘chimping’ I could start to imagine what the preview would look like. Therefore I started to think in black and white, with particular attention paid to light and shadows and seeing potential for reducing the scene down to its abstract, core features.

Above I’ve displayed a couple of examples of me trying to ‘see’ in black and white before taking the shot (even though the optical viewfinder let me see in colour as a preview!).



Carroll, H. (2015). Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs of People. London: Laurence King.

Photography: The Key Concepts David Bate

While I was working through landscape course, a book I regularly referred to because of its concise and yet stimulating prose on photography, caught my eye again. The book was aptly named Photography: The Key Concepts by David Bate and I found I had skipped the chapter entitled ‘Documentary and Story-telling’ while mainly focussing instead on the chapter ‘In the Landscape’. Therefore I have been closely reading the documentary chapter amongst others and here are some of my notes for the documentary chapter.

The chapter ‘Documentary and Story-telling’ I discovered started with an overview of Documentary’s history within photography. This was very useful for me when getting my head around its attributes at the time the genre’s name was coined and its subsequent years.

Use/ownership of social documents featured heavily in this history with both sides being outlined by Bate – from editors of magazines having full control over what was done with the images to ‘auteur’ photographers who published their own photo books and controlled the layout themselves.

The inherent indexicality photographs possessed, as the technological advancements increased ‘the sense of immediacy and spontaneity’, helped make the photographs ‘intrinsically ‘modern’ and ‘democratic’’. – (Bate, 2009). This ‘democratic vision’ of informing other ordinary people of each other’s societies through picture, sounds and text was the overriding, optimistic tie in documentary before the second world war took place.

The conflict between photographs as documents (some kind of evidence) and social documentary (where photographs depicted real world and real people in it recording social experience) which Bate described interested me greatly. The same complication had been in my mind for some time (ever since trying to define documentary) . Therefore when I read: ‘it would be wrong to confuse the value of a photograph in the court of law with the affective value of social documentary pictures on a more general public.’ – (Bate,2009), I began to understand the difference. Here, I observed that they were two different kinds of pictures affecting their target audiences in totally different ways. On the one hand there was a photograph or set of photographs functioning apparently solely to inform fact. For example an as sharply in focus and highly detailed a picture of an object with as little aesthetics as possible. As Bate alludes to this could be any photograph as any photograph can be a document. The above example was just the ideal kind of photograph as a document.

On the other hand there was social documentary and although this may have seemed by many at the time to be objective in some shape or form, the photographer invariably affected the viewer’s feelings towards the scene through their framing choices etc. For example a photograph like ‘Migrant Mother’ by Dorothea Lange (1936) taken in the ‘real world’ to bring about social reform was tightly framed and captured at a specific timing to get the famous expression on the mother’s face. The various styles of social documentary were subjective too because of what they were trying to convey. Grouping them or separating them in the sub genres of documentary classifications was problematic because the photographic styles used to affect the public target audience were not definitive.

This realisation of the difference between document and documentary was good to finally grasp. However, it did make me wonder if there could be a possible middle ground between these objective and subjective approaches. My mind wandered to the work of August Sander, mentioned in the next part of the chapter.



Bate, D. (2009). Photography: The Key Concepts. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Lange, D. (1936). Migrant Mother. [Photograph].

Survival Programmes

When I read about the Exit photography group: three, young photographers trying to bring about social reform by documenting harrowing poverty through purely black and white photographs as well as interviews over 5 years, I found the magazine article about Survival Programmes to be eye-opening and moving at the same time.


Survival Programmes: In Britain's Inner Cities
Home-bound pensioner, Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland, 1975


Home-bound pensioner, Maryhill, Galsgow, Scotland, 1975 by the Exit Photography Group depicts a man who’s thoughts are elsewhere. Whether his thoughts are on what is outside his window, or in my opinion more likely his retirement, it seems from his intent gaze they are elsewhere and not on the TV which dominates the composition. Ironically the TV shows a scene which may be something akin to what he regards as retirement which is why I’ve found this image so compelling. The black and white medium allows the viewer to concentrate on the compositional aspects of the image as well as lighting so this potential message becomes clearer.


Survival Programmes: In Britain's Inner Cities
Rootless Youth, Small Heath, Birmingham, 1975.


Rootless Youth, Small Heath, Birmingham, 1975 by the Exit Photography Group was the most moving image for me of the series as the youth looks very dejected and run-down and the black and white treatment subtly leads the viewer to the unfortunate youth because of the converging perspective centring in around his head.

In terms of the Exit photography group’s photographs’ success in fighting for social reform, because the photographs were black and white, for me their cause was aided as the black and white element helped. I felt the photographs themselves were very well-composed and indicative of the struggles with poverty that were happening but because the medium of black and white was employed they did indeed take on an extra authority. I have thought about why this may be and one reason which occurred to me was that people associated black and white with truthfulness as photography had traditionally been this medium (colour had not been possible until later in photography’s life). For that reason the viewer was more likely to accept what was represented in the frame as fact.


Survival Programmes: In Britain's Inner Cities
Vandals, Tenement Block, Govan, Glasgow, Scotland, 1975.


Vandals, Tenement Block, Govan, Glasgow, Scotland, 1975 by the Exit Photography Group was for me a look into a different world with the vandals photographed on two extreme corners of the frame. This added to the drama in my opinion.

Perhaps another less obvious reason the photographers for the Exit photography group employed black and white solely may have been that although colour was available and was more immediate and modern, black and white was also available but more aged. Viewers may subconsciously read the images as part of an older time, stuck in its ways. Therefore in a way it possibly signified the divide in contemporary colour and older black and white. The message of social reform being communicated with the viewer that way (poverty belonged to the old age with black and white). Perhaps colour would be used as a more positive, immediate energy to celebrate social reform by these photographers, if social reform was brought about?


A link to the license for the images above:

issuu. (2006). Volume 5 Number 1. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Feb. 2017].

Steele-Perkins, C., Battye, N. and Trevor, P. (1975). Survival Programmes: In Britain’s Inner Cities: Home-bound pensioner, Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland, 1975. [Photograph] Newcastle: AmberSide Collection.

Steele-Perkins, C., Battye, N. and Trevor, P. (1975). Survival Programmes: In Britain’s Inner Cities: Rootless Youth, Small Heath, Birmingham, 1975. [Photograph] Newcastle: AmberSide Collection.

Steele-Perkins, C., Battye, N. and Trevor, P. (1975). Survival Programmes: In Britain’s Inner Cities: Vandals, Tenement Block, Govan, Glasgow, Scotland, 1975. [Photograph] Newcastle: AmberSide Collection.


The Paradox of Documentary

The photograph is intrinsically associated with portraying a true depiction of reality; it is indexical to nature and recent generations have after all grown up with photography as photography has developed. This is especially so with the drastic changes in technology, with both people and technology  adapting as technology evolves. I believe as photographs as documents are seen to be true on the most part, this helps to evoke a response from the viewer to do with natural human curiosity. The viewer is naturally drawn to the photograph as a fact of nature and because it was presumably taken by another person there is a connection between viewer and photograph. This is where they potentially infer meaning from the taker’s interpretation of the world.

What is Documentary?

Documentary would be, in my preconceptions, the act of story-telling, whether it be through pictures or video footage of something from ‘real-life’. However, there is also the literal translation of making a document of something.

While listening to Miranda Gavin talking about documentary being categorised, she suggests perhaps the need for new terms and language to be used when describing documentary, instead of older ones like photojournalism and reportage. One reason for this would be the new ways people are approaching documentary in order to keep their work fresh, especially as digital accessibility has become so prevalent. I agreed with Gavin that photojournalism and reportage were quite old terms when digital was relatively new and I also realised the line between art and documentary was becoming more and more blurred in photographic practice. Factors like technological advancements as well as the influx of the female gender into documentary practice contribute to this blurring. The difficulty of categorising work which falls into both art and documentary while also often being creative, as Gavin discusses, is why the different groups merge into each other a lot. Therefore I would say Gavin’s viewpoint for new terms for documentary could be an astute suggestion in an age when technology in the form of digital has made the boundaries of documentary less defined.

Although digital accessibility change is mostly positive, Gavin did raise questions about the market for documentary, where there are more documentary photographers but less editors publishing physically so if online services are utilised, making sure the photographer has some control over editorial integrity is key.