CAN 1 Research point 5.1

What was your idea of documentary photography before you worked on Part One? How would you now sum it up? What are the differences between documentary, reportage, photojournalism and art photography?

Before doing Part One I would have said that the overarching concern of all forms of documentary photography is a desire to inform and enlighten the public about events and issues that are taking place in the world. Now I would say that it is to raise questions.

I see the distinctions between the different documentary modalities as being:
– Photojournalism presents events as they occur at the scene in an objective, detached manner.
– Reportage creates a more personalised viewpoint of a story.
– Documentary photography usually involves a more extended and reflective treatment of an event or issue, and often takes place at some distance in time or space than photojournalism or reportage.
– Art photography as documentary photography brings an issue or event to the public’s attention through the use of images which may not directly represent the subject at all in a literal sense.

Amongst the various forms of documentary photography, photojournalism is under particular threat in the current climate, due to:
– the ability of “citizen journalism” to provide on-the-spot images of breaking news.
– the decline of traditional print press sales and the consequent slashing of newsroom budgets.
– the increasing use of stills from video as press images and the associated redistribution of emphasis in newsgathering organisations (Winslow, 2014).

An issue of fundamental importance to all forms of documentary photography is the question of how truth can be achieved and communicated in the “post-fact” era of today. It has been argued (Ponsford, 2018) that in the present climate art photography is particularly well placed to communicate truths about events , since it is freed from the need to include only literal facts and is able to address wider truths by engaging its audience in analytical processes that can enable them to come to conclusions via their own deliberations. This less didactic, more interactive process can be seen as a good fit for an era in which people choose the facts they wish to believe rather than accepting everything verbatim (Tillmans, 2018).

References and resources

Lyon, S. (2017) ‘The purpose of photography in a post-truth era’. Available at [accessed 02.05.18]
Ponsford, M. (2018) ‘In the post-truth era, photographers use lies to spread facts’. Available at [accessed 02.05.18]
Tillmans, W. and Oetker, B. (2018) Jahresring 64: What Is Different? Germany: Sternberg Press.
Winslow, D.R. (2014) ‘Photo staff cuts continue at Thomson Reuters’. Available at [accessed 07.05.18]