Category Archives: Part 1 Projects & Exercises The photograph as document

Reflections on part 1: The photograph within documentary and as a document

Costa man_

O’Neill, A. Holborn (2016)

Initial understanding

I originally saw documentary photography as a real account of a particular event or situation. The purpose of which was often to expose or highlight a hidden truth with the intentions of reporting unjust circumstances although this was not an exclusive relationship. There were clear areas of relevance to journalism, protest and change. I also recognised that the photograph as a document played a fundamental role in areas such as security, control and surveillance.

What do I now think after part 1

Photographs are constructed they are not found, they are a representation, a picture, an image, they are not real. Equally it is the photographer who is responsible for the original context and narrative of the photograph thus providing the image with meaning. Also there is no such thing as absolute objectivity it does not exist, it is a social construct there is only subjectivity initiated by motive and need.
This leads to a disruption of the cognitive illusion, which creates the special relationship between photography and an objective reality or universal truth. That confusion arises if and when we can’t recognise and reconcile this objective reality as the authenticity and realness of the image is as much about how the concept of photography has developed in a social world as it is the photograph itself.

There are specific categories which have provided a structure for the development of photo-documentary for instance social documentary work typified by the images made by Dorothy Lange and the (FSA) Farm Security Administration, Photojournalism and Robert Capa’s images of the D-Day landings, Reportage typified by Henri Cartier-Bresson and art photography represented perhaps by Paul Seawright.

However this structure came about as much to interpret the development of the medium as much as any explicit need for structure and as time goes by there has been an increasing blurring of the lines and this will only continue as the medium continues to evolve. and as visual culture continues to converge, and so to must the categorisation of photography develop.

documentary post 1

Nick Hedges, 1971, as part of a project documenting the inner city slums in the 60s and 70s later appearing in the exhibition Make Life Worth Living (2014) arranged to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the charity Shelter

An equally relevant part of any debate on photo-documentary is concerning the original and changing context. Photographs such as the one above taken by Nick Hedges in Liverpool 8 in the 1970s start of as one thing only to become another.

Earlier in our part 1 coursework the question was posed whether Sarah Pickering’s work Public Order was an example of effective documentary or was it misleading, well I certainly see this as an effective use of documentary. Equally Paul Seawright’s work is at times regarded more as art than documentary but this perspective on his work in my mind would be unjustified. As photography as a medium continues it’s development to continue to be relevant so must it’s categorisation. I would also add the photomontages such as Martha Rosler’s series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home into the documentary genre.

Documentary is still a very emotive subject because of the special relationship photography has with ‘the real’ and documentary tradition which puts the images of real situations at it’s very core. Photographs are powerful signals able to transmit and communicate meaning and all signals are made for a reason. As photographers we might focus on the debates which are important to us, we discuss the events we choose to discuss, we say the things that we want to say, the motives and reasoning may be mutable but the role of the photographer in creating the image, context and narrative and therefore message and meaning is irrefutable.

Reference list

Hedges N,(1971) image above taken from The Observer, p.10, 07/02/2016

Aftermath and Chloe Matthews: Shot at dawn


Matthews, C taken from shot at dawn

Relevance to my work
I originally saw Chloe Matthews Shot at Dawn in 2015 so when I was planning assignment 1 series 2 I returned to Shot at Dawn (and also Paul Seawright’s Hidden) for inspiration when trying to create a sense of something that was missing or had happened. 


Matthews, C taken from shot at dawn 

Commissioned as part of the commemorations of the centenary of WWI Chloe Matthews visited sites where British, New Zealand, French and Belgian troops were executed for cowardice and desertion between 1914-1918.

In accordance with the protocol of the day these men were executed at dawn and Matthews revisited and photographed the execution sites, again at the break of dawn. What became understood in years to come was that the mental health of these young men was severely damaged and affected by the brutal trench warfare and some Governments, such as Britain and New Zealand, have since granted posthumous pardons to all victims of this tragic situation.

The series of images are deeply sombre and seem to invite the viewer to re-evaluate the judgement of the soldiers’ original shameful crimes whilst reflecting on their unnecessary and deeply unfair deaths and the impact that this would have had on their families.


Paul Seawright taken from Hidden

Matthews’ work has clear similarities with Paul Seawright’s work Hidden and Joel Meyerowitz archive of the Aftermath of 9/11. David Campany’s essay safety in numbness (2003) argues that this late photography can create a sense of ‘indifference’. I would prefer to regard such images as an appropriate response allowing the viewer to reflect more deeply and consider their own personal response. And in doing so appropriately avoiding the creation of a spectacle to be exploited.
I believe late photography creates a physical and cognitive space between the past and the present which allows and almost forces the viewer to take responsibility to reflect upon and evaluate their own response which I consider to be a deeper emotional process and one which I both intriguing and challenging.

Reference list

Chloe Matthews, Shot at dawn can be seen at
(accessed 12/03/16)

Campany, D safety in numbness essay (2003) can be read at            (accessed 04/03/2016)

Joel Meyerowitz Aftermath can be seen at (accessed 04/03/2016)

Paul Seawright Hidden can be seen at

(accessed 04/03/2016)


Project 5: The manipulated image


Two Ways of Life by Oscar Gustav Rejlander 

Oscar Gustav Rejlander was an early pioneer of art photography and an expert in photomontage as seen in the elaborate tableau Two Ways of Life which Rejlander constructed by using over 30 separate negatives. The work depicts the life of a sinner versus the life of a saint and is typical of the artistic subject matter so often selected by Rejlander who had originally trained and developed as a painter and therefore recognised that photography could also be a medium for artistic expression and not limited by it’s mechanical recording capability.


Drowned Man by Hippolyte Bayard (1840) 

The manipulation of the photographic image is certainly not a new debate and dates right back to the very first days in the history of the medium when early photography pioneer Hippolyte Bayard made his self-portrait as his expression of injustice Drowned Man (1840) following the rejection, of the early photographic process invented by Bayard, by the French Government in favour of Daguerre’s invention.

The international exhibition, Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop (2012/13) focussed on the manipulated image through the history of photography contrary to the popular belief that manipulation was born in the digital era. In a quotation from the original press release it states that “Mia Fineman offers a corrective to the dominant narrative of photography’s development, in which champions of photographic “purity”, such as Paul Strand, Edward Weston, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, get all the glory, while devotees of manipulation, including Henry Peach Robinson, Edward Steichan and John Heartfield, are treated as conspicuous anomalies.” (Fineman, M. 2012). What is also interesting is that Peach Robinson, Steichan and Heartfield, in common with Oscar Gustav Rejlander, were all trained as artists and painters before they turned to photography. Again indicating that artistic expression rejects the need or claim for photography to be a representation of ‘the real’.

In her book Photography A Critical Introduction (2009) Liz Wells comments that the debate over the nature of photography and it’s relationship to ‘the real’ has been reignited in the light of the development of digital media and it’s many possibilities in image enhancement and manipulation.

Clearly this raises important questions when we consider certain genres such as photojournalism where the ‘reality and truth’ is deemed to be the fundamental basis on which the image is regarded. Surely a disproof of theory would undermine the entire foundation upon which the photographic medium has been built. Since it’s invention Photography has been regarded as a way of recording or even preserving a particular event and point in time, an event that actually took place and happened as it is this that gives photography it’s special relationship with ‘the real’.

Wells (2009, p74) argues that “It is possible to argue that the authenticity of the photograph was validated less by the nature of the image itself than through the structure of discursive, social and professional practices which constituted photography. And radical transformation in this structure makes us uneasy about the status of the photograph. Not only do we know that photographs may have been manipulated but our reception and understanding of the world of signs may have been transformed.” As the earlier quotation from Mia Fineman implies, this explanation would not credibly fit the conventional narrative and therefore structures of photography as a medium or industry.

Wells (2009, p75) goes onto say that “it is clear that a complex of technical, political, social and cultural changes has transformed not just photography, but the whole of visual culture.”

Wells concludes photography and it’s specific genres are now merging and are increasingly difficult to identify and distinguish in isolation to the point that the old labels may no longer be appropriate to the new work which is now being produced.


Taken from the series Young Musicians by Wendy McMurdo

So does digital technology change how we see truth and reality in photography? Certainly there is wider critical questioning of how far we can consider photography to ‘be the truth or reality’ but the relationship between image and reality has always been a psychological illusion, which if permanently disrupted would cause significant confusion and distress and as such photography will no doubt be seen to continue it’s special relationship with ‘the real’ at least for the foreseeable future.

However this relationship has developed and so has our perception and use of truth and reality. Wolf (2010, p52) believes that, “digital technology calls upon us to rethink previous arguments or ideas about what a camera does and how photographic images function in contemporary culture. It allows us to consider reality as mutable, not fixed, and to think of space and time as fluid not static.”

There are certainly cultural consequences as a result of society becoming so accustomed to viewing the world through the digitally manipulated image in that ‘the real’ no longer appears to be as relevant as the digitally manipulated reality takes over. Society has become much more accustomed to manipulating ‘image’ to the point that the distinction between image and reality has all but evaporated and drifted into a new existence regarded in many respects as part of a ‘new reality’. For instance social media now dictates that not just corporations but individuals too have their own self-image and brands to develop and promote.

Clearly digital technology is changing the fundamental structure of photography, visual culture, how society functions and how we live our lives but it is still too early to fully consider what the full impact ‘has been’ as I think the discussion about the future ‘will be’ is set to run for a number of years to come.

Reference list

Wells, L. The Real and the Digital pages 73-75, (2009). Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th ed.) Abingdon: Routledge

Wolf, S (2010) The Digital Eye Photographic Art in the Electronic Age London: Prestel Publishing Ltd


Two Ways of Life by Rejlander, O taken from (accessed 22/03/2016)

Drowned Man by Bayard, H taken from (accessed 18/03/2016)

Taken from the series Young Musicians by Wendy McMurdo (accessed 20/03/2016)


Project 4 The gallery wall – documentary as art


Alessandra Sanguinetti, taken from The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams

It is now widely accepted that Photography can be art and the exhibitions held the MoMA, New York, New Documents (1967) and Mirrors and Windows (1978) enabled the influential John Szarkowski to make the case for the medium. The UK eventually followed suit with the Cruel and Tender (2003) and Street and Studio (2008) exhibitions held at the Tate Modern, London.

It was also recognised that photography was more about the expression and interpretation rather than a photographer following a process of recording and this allowed a critical acceptance of the artistic possibilities within the medium.

Paul Seawright’s Sectarian Murders is a good example of artistic expression and the work challenges the difference between documentary photography and art. He discusses his work in a video interview, which can be seen at:

(accessed 02/03/2016)

Seawright describes how his work is often criticised for not being sufficiently explicit but his view is that if the work is too direct then it becomes more journalistic as oppose artistic. He describes how ‘good art’ is accessible but that it slowly reveals itself. He also adds that if the work is too ambiguous then it may not even make sense and then it does n’t work as art. In his work Seawright seeks to leave room for the viewer to develop an interpretation of the construction of meaning.

What happens when documentary work becomes Art

If a documentary work becomes regarded as art this does not change the original meaning. What does happen however is that by hanging the photograph in a gallery an additional dimension is created and that new dimension can obscure the original message or may not carry that message as it’s primary objective but that doesn’t necessarily equate to a change of meaning. It merely adds an additional layer of complexity to the work.

Sarah Pickering series Public Order continues to explore the boundaries between documentary and art. When viewing the images it was a strange sensation to slowly recognise what was so vastly different in her scenes to the usual view of reality. When I began to realise that the usual signs of life, people, cars etc were missing, my brain began to go into overdrive, scouring the image in order for it to make sense and to create a new meaning for what was before my eyes. The complexity and effect of the work was very powerful. I started to rethink my understanding of the role of the police and this created a sense of exposure and vulnerability and I saw how difficult it is for the human brain and psyche to live with ambiguity and things not making sense.

I also considered the work of Alessandra Sanguinetti whose series The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams, which lies between staged and real life and therefore between ‘truth and fantasy’. What I found most interesting in this work what how in the end I had completely given up on the question of whether particular compositions were staged or ‘real life’. Firstly because I could n’t actually tell the difference but more importantly the question had lost it’s meaning. It no longer seemed to matter.

Reference list

Bull, S (2005) Photography Abingdon: Routledge (accessed 06/03/2016) (accessed 06/03/2016) (accessed 06/03/2016)

Museum of Modern Art, New York New Documents (1967) press release can be read in full at (accessed 05/03/2016)

Museum of Modern Art, New York Mirrors and Windows (1978) press release can be read in full at (accessed 05/03/2016)

Tate Modern, London. Cruel and Tender (2003) press release can be read in full at (accessed 05/03/2016)

Tate Modern, London. Street and Studio (2008) press release can be read in full at (accessed 05/03/2016)


Project 3: Colour or black and white exercise in street photography

My chosen location for this exercise was High Holborn, London. Shooting street photography style images I noted a number of interesting observations and differences between a colour format versus black and white.

Colour immediately feels more real which I believe is because we see and remember in colour not black and white.

Black and white creates the sense that the images are part of a historical and or documentary project probably due to a subconscious recognition of black and white as the historical and therefore traditional format of choice for documentary and reportage work.

The black and white images also create an artistic sense, again probably due to a subconscious recognition of black and white as the historical and therefore traditional format of choice for art or serious photography.

Black and white also creates a sense of importance and authenticity because perhaps an image separated from it’s natural colour range appears as if it was taken ‘some how, some way’ in the same way that pixelated or grainy images can give a sense of authenticity (think of Robert Capa’s D-Day landing images from World War Two).

The black and white format can also emphasise contrast in tones particularly well which I think works well when taking photographs in the city where there are often striking contrasts between people and the difference materials of the built environment.

However, colour does feel more intuitive and certainly more contemporary, again perhaps because I have been researching recently the development of photography and seen that to large extent many serious practitioners now predominantly use colour and this format is widely accepted by the art world.

The additional ‘colour’ information contained in a colour image gives more information to interpret and creates a sense that there is more to understand. This allows complexities and different layers of meaning and interpretation to take shape.

I think on reflection I prefer colour and see it as a more complex format which whilst perhaps more challenging to work with can create a wider range of outcomes, although the black and white format is so ingrained in mainstream culture and history I still have a strong resonance with it.





Photography in colour: William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Martin Parr



Photograph installed as a 60-foot-long image in New York’s Grand Central Station as an advertisement for Kodak.

Inconsistencies in the quality of film had hampered the use of colour in challenging black and white for the mantle of the format of choice for the serious photographer. This was further exacerbated when early advertising and commercial photographers began to use colour undermining the artistic credentials of colour photography.

In 1967 John Szarkowski’s ‘New Documents’ exhibition (MoMA, New York) sent out a message that photo-documentary had developed from a voice for social reform into a more personalised and subjective perspective. As part of this development certain photographers such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore began to experiment and use colour film to make images as a departure from black and white, the then traditional format of documentary and art photography. (Bull, S 2005).

Photographers and artists in America were trying to make sense of the impact of capitalism and consumerism to understand how people and places were being affected and they started to parody the colourful world of mass consumerism and major corporations.


William Eggleston

Originally inspired by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank William Eggleston became an early pioneer of colour photography creating his images of American life in the 1960’s and 70s. Eggleston’s style of photographing the ordinary as oppose the extraordinary was a departure from the concept of ‘the decisive moment’ and inspired a generation of photographers such as Stephen Shore.


Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places, 1975

Stephen Shore hadn’t followed a particularly conventional route through University but had been resident in Andy Warhol’s factory from 1965-1969 and developed an interest in consumerism and the commercial world.


Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places, 1974

Shore embarked upon marathon road trips across America making images of what he saw and found. The early influences of Eggleston can be found in Stephen Shore’s work American Surfaces where he made photographs of the meals that he ate, the motel rooms that he stayed in, the shop windows that he gazed through and the people that he encountered. His work adopted the look and feel of the ‘snapshot’ and Shore even used a Kodak lab to produce his final images to maintain this concept. However the images were anything but snapshots as they held up a mirror to American.


Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places, 1973

His next major work was Uncommon Places which was again images taken on American road trips but this time his style had developed by using a large format camera which assisted in the process of creating fantastically composed and detailed images of the American way of life, petrol stations, cark parks, streets, shops and open roads with some people.

I find the work of Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places really interesting, the compositions are so perfect and aesthetically pleasing that viewing the image feels as if it would be a better experience that seeing the scene with my own eyes! Perfect landscape photography technique with absolute clarity and detail throughout the images.

He uses so many techniques so brilliantly, how he sees shape and builds up a perfect composition almost layer by layer. How he uses telegraph poles and cables to create frames within rules of composition echoing renaissance period paintings whilst creating his own signature. I found the work genuinely inspiring and with Susan Sontag in mind Shore’s work makes us believe that “everything exists to end up in a photograph”. (Sontag. S 1970), well a Stephen Shore photograph.

Martin Parr

A prolific photographer of people and places from the 1970s to the present day who has had a major influence on photography through his use of vivid colour and his personal style of documentary. Parr cites Tony Ray Jones as a major influence and Jones’ work inspired Parr to record a ‘British way of life’ as Parr observed in his post Polytechnic days, which seemed to be fast disappearing.

Tony Ray Jones worked both in the UK and in America in the 1960s and 70s and as such acts as a fusion and bridge between British and American documentary photography. Parr established himself in the North of England after his studies in Manchester. Whilst born in comfortable Surrey Parr’s grandfather, a keen amateur photographer came from Yorkshire and he had gifted a teenage Parr his first Kodak camera.

Parr’s first major project was life around the declining town and surrounding villages of Hebden Bridge and in particular the non conformist chapels of the Methodist Church of which his father and grandfather had been active within and had therefore acted as a backdrop to Parr’s early life. His images were predominantly in black and white and were infused with empathy and where appropriate an intelligent humour.


Martin Parr, taken from The Cost of Living 

As Britain in the 1980s took off so did Parr’s career and his photography, influenced by the likes of William Eggleston, Steven Shore and Joel Meyerowitz, developed into vivid colour images capturing what Parr regarded as the impact and effects of the Thatcher Government. In projects such as New Brighton and The Cost of Living, Parr depicts working and middle-classes as the country drives towards a lifestyle influenced by mass culture, capitalism, and consumerism.


Martin Parr

Martin Parr’s style of documenting his subject matter was a major influencing factor in the development from a mainly empathetic style towards a more aggressive form where the photographer invites the viewer to join him in observing if not judging their efforts at incorporating the conventions of modern life.


Martin Parr taken from The Last Resort

Parr’s personal perspective on these factors are clear in his images as he begins to introduce humour, irony and satire which become excruciating for the subjects of his images and which are perhaps a combination of Parr’s own personality and his reflections on what people and society had become.

Martin Parr’s style has become a mainstream influence on street photography even to this day and has assisted in elevating photography to a critically acclaimed status in the UK, a country which has trailed behind other Western countries such as America in it’s respect for the medium.

Reference List

Bajac, Q(2010). Parr by Parr, Quentin Bajac meets Martin Parr. London: Thames and Hudson.

Bull, S (2010). Photography. Abingdon: Routledge

Eggleston, W (1971), William Eggleston’s Guide. Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, (2007).

Shore, S (2005). American Surfaces. Reprinted in paperback, 2008. London: Phaidon

Shore, S (1982), Uncommon Places. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Szarkowski, J. (1967), ‘New Documents’ taken from exhibition press release which can be read in full at (accessed 7/02/2016)

Images taken from

Kodak image: (accessed 27/02/2016)

Eggleston, W image: (accessed 27/02/2016)

Parr, M images: (accessed 27/02/2016)

Shore, S images: (accessed 2702/2016)





Looking at the work of some notable photographers from the ‘black and white’ documentary era: Garry Winogrand, Walker Evans and Robert Frank

As we begin the progression in our awareness and understanding of context and narrative I have just recognised the actual and absolute control that is in the hands of the photographer over what type of image is created and this has become critical in my thinking.

This is more of a growing awareness that as photographers we must accept responsibility for what is presented first of all to ourselves and then to the viewer. We cannot escape this responsibility by accepting an illusion that the camera takes a picture of the world as it is.

As part of a wider research into specific practitioners I made a point at starting at the beginning and referred back to the works of Garry Winogrand, Walker Evans and Robert Frank as examples of the 20th century era of black and white documentary and reportage. As my critical thinking begins to awaken I am now beginning to see the differences in the subject matter and compositions between photographers.


Garry Winogrand, 1969, Taken from Women Are Beautiful

Garry Winogrand’s work for the most part represented all that was considered good about the growth and development of America as a country in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Staying loyal to New York and especially the district of Manhattan photographing suited men and pretty women on their way to the office to earn the dollars to enjoy their increasingly prosperous lives as America’s economic power became increasingly dominant.

There were lots of images taken from sports stadiums, events and parties, parks and zoos creating essentially an optimistic view of America. There was very little mention of poverty or inequality in Winogrand’s main body of work but as his life progressed into the 70s and 80s he appeared to have become disillusioned with the American dream and this shows in his later work.

Whilst I can appreciate the quality and depth of the work I feel that the subject matter is at times a little frivolous, limited and lacks balance in it’s view of society.


Walker Evans, taken from American Photographs 

I also revisited the work of Walker Evans’ American Photographs having seen the work last year whilst studying with OCA but at that time I could n’t see too much in his work.

Evans was part of the (FSA) Farming Securities Administration photo documentary project highlighting the poverty and hardship experienced by the American farmworkers in the Great Depression of the 1930s, which almost saw the collapse of the capitalist system. Evans’ American Photographs details poverty and inequality, poor living conditions, colour and race juxtaposed with the progress and trappings of the American dream. Poorer people are often portrayed as religious and virtuous, resilient and honest. More affluent people seem to be portrayed as privileged, arrogant, cynical and untrustworthy. Evans’ personal voice is also further relayed by his use of irony in balancing images of abject poverty alongside advertisements of consumer products and a more prosperous existence.

I liked what I perceived to be a deeper level of awareness, a more honest collection than Winogrand’s work but aesthetically the series isn’t entirely my choice.


Robert Frank, taken from The Americans

Another example of how 20th century America was portrayed was Robert Frank’s work, ‘The Americans’. Frank, a Swiss national, famously captured America as the archetypal ‘outsider’ shooting over 500 rolls of film on three separate gruelling road trips with his wife and two children across America.

Frank edited ‘The Americans’ down to just 83 images depicting the Country as he saw it, an approach bringing him huge criticism at the time. His dark images, critical views of capitalism and pessimistic vision for America and seemingly it’s future shocked the art and photography establishment. “It’s difficult to remember how shocking Robert frank’s book was,” (Szarkowski,J. 1968 cited by O’Hagan, S. 2009).

I really liked ‘The Americans’ and find the images readable but complex, subtle and intelligent. Whilst the work is 60 years large portions of the work I believe still have a very relevant and timeless quality.

The most interesting and relevant part of this exercise was to recognise how these three photographers interpreted and created such different impressions of effectively the same subject matter, American life.

I realise now that the story is in the image all along.

Reference list

Evans, W (1938) American Photographs, 75th anniversary edition, 2012, London: Tate Publishing

Frank, R (1958) The Americans, 8th edition, 2014, Gottinggen, Germany: Steidl

O’Hagan, S (2009) Robert Frank’s The Americans still shocks, 50 years on, article from The Guardian, can be read in full at (accessed 16/02/2016)

Winogrand, G (2014) Garry Winogrand retrospective exhibition. San Francisco MoMA in association with Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

(ISBN 978-0-300-19177-6)

Information about the exhibition can be found at (accessed 12/02/2016)

O’Hagan, S 2014. Garry Winogrand: The restless genius who gave street photography attitude, article from The Guardian can be read in full at (accessed 15/02/2016)


Winogrand, G 1969, taken from Women Are Beautiful, accessed from the MoMA, New York website. (accessed 21/02/2016)

Walker Evans (date unknown) accessed 21/02/2016) from

Robert Franks taken from The Americans, accessed 21/02/2016) from