Sunday, January 6, 2013

Documentary photography - is it DEAD?



A recent article in the online journal SALON asks the question, is documentary-style photography dead? The piece cites the afterword to Aperture’s recent re-release of Nan Goldin's classic, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.
Goldin writes: I am terrified that everything I believe about photography, about this work, is over because of the computer and easy manipulation of images it facilitates. This work was always about reality, the hard truth, and there was never any artifice. I have always believed that my photographs capture a moment that is real, without setting anything up...
Now, it is so distressing: no one any longer believes that a photograph is real. Almost every time I give a talk or teach, I ask this question about truth and photography. If all but four or five in an audience of two hundred artistic people don’t believe that photographs are true, then what does that say about the rest of the world? So this eliminates the larger reason for having done this book — not for me, but if nobody believes it as having happened …what is the point? The belief that a photograph can be True has become obsolete.

To me the real issue here is not the "truth" of the photograph, after all what is truth? Have photographs ever been truly true? Certainly not objective in their take on the world. After all what is in the frame and what meaning that carries is all to do with where the camera was pointed. In fact it's as much to do with what has been left out of the image as has been left in. Context is everything. In effect the manipulation starts when the picture is framed up before it even gets into photoshop.
What we photographers should be thinking about is not so much Truth but Authenticity. Is the work truthful to its origins and has a sincerity of intention? In dealing with the world, is the work faithful to the maker's internal ideas and rather than just external? (Does this include WTF my galerist wants one in pink because he knows he can sell it?)
If the work stacks up authentically, then the process itself becomes quite secondary and manipulation and set-ups will not damage the substance or the reading of the work.
Increasingly I'm seeing work that has moved beyond just being a quantifiable document. Work that is highly personal and is not just about how things are but how we feel. I like this sort of work, it's exciting and challenging. By moving beyond the straight document, this opens up the image making to something slippery, strange, perverse and mysterious. This sort of work invites engagement and asks the difficult questions.

You can read the full text of the SALON article HERE. Below is an extract that appealed to me and I think supports what I've said above.
More and more, in an art setting, photography is used as a process to create abstract or self-consciously composed imagery, often as a component of a larger conceptual frame; it tends to present reality through metaphor, or by way of a signifier, rather than by straight documentation of subjects’ lives. So, yes, it may be fair to say that people no longer believe that a photograph in a gallery or museum or art book is true, precisely because they are no longer being asked to do so. The question, for the time being, seems almost irrelevant.

1 comment:

Paul Donohoe said...

never any artiface? oh come on. from the time you can first look into a viefinder you make choices. you make a truth, choose what to leave in our out, and you know in old days they could just as easily make "fake" photos, or "manipulate" a negative...high horses are easy to fall off!!!