Project: Defining Documentary


We had to listen to Miranda Gavin giving a talk about documentary photography and write a 200 word reflective response of our reaction.

Gavin raises a valid point right at the start when she questions what the definitions around documentary and similar photography mean and do they mean the same now? The changes she mentions are about technology are undeniable. The internet itself meant images were more widely available quicker even when I was studying this in 2006, when I  investigated citizen journalism and coverage of the London bombing. Now, social networking sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have evolved even more, and are regularly used to give people news as events happen. Smartphones too have meant that we are seldom without internet access (unless you live in Sabah as I do) and so we are up to date with events. We also seem to be using sites like Instagram to document our lives, I have seen my friends posting their lives there, their day at school, sunsets and other events that could be seen as quite mundane. Seeing the photos means we can still be a part of their lives and keep in touch. In general, technology has made it so much easier to take and upload photos to the internet wherever we are.

It does seem that more women are studying now, the first courses I did had slightly more women than men. My masters had more men on the Chinese end but the following year when there were more foreign students this changed. Women may cover topics that men may not, for example following female communities in Muslim countries is a lot more accessible for females. There definitely seems to be a need to find new ways to cover events and stories, whilst also trying to think of new topics.

I have listened to many podcasts where fine art photographers discuss the issues of colour management. I have never been particularly fussy about it but having seen some of their images I understand why they might worry. I feel that documentary photography is more about portraying a story and that while colour is important, there are times it needs to be left to an editor. After all, we have no control now over how images will be consumed – of course colour may also vary online depending on how we view the image – what we view it on, the amount of backlighting and the lighting in the surrounding area for example.


Gavin talked about the blurred boundaries of fine art versus creative versus documentary, I don’t think this has ever been really clear cut and most work crosses more than one boundary. There are features that make work more one genre but I believe a photo can show a lot more. Of course perceptions are all important, as she mentions.


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