Thursday, November 12, 2009

documentary photography

i learned something yesterday on my usual wednesday afternoon trip to the henie onstad art center (i'm going to miss that place). they had a new exhibition up of contemporary norwegian documentary photography. the photos were all recent ones by norwegian photographers. mentioned in the notes on several of the photos were that they harkened to the traditions of american documentary photographer walker evans (1903-1975) and german august sander (1876-1964) and i intend to look into their work a bit and learn more. i suppose another name for documentary photography is journalistic photography, but it's about depicting snapshots of life as it is. and i suppose it's where the notion that a picture is worth 1000 words came from.

most of the photographers in the exhibition had little interaction with their subjects, they just tried to capture moments without interference, but there were several where they had posed the subjects. one of those is above, where a russian woman is posed on a train (the trans-siberian railroad, to be exact), tho' she is, in a sense, posed in her natural habitat. i had to snap it with my iPhone and i love how my own reflection is visible in the photo, which for me, further underlines the documentary nature of the documenting myself seeing the documentary photograph. that strikes me as powerful on some level, tho' i'm not sure that at the moment i can explain it. it somehow shows how the things we see, especially something like an exhibition, which is intentional on every level, creep into our own topography and become part of us in what we take away.

i think blogging goes well with documentary photography and many of us are amateur documentary photographers, showing our daily lives and the topographies (there's that word again, but it's on my mind of late) of our lives. maybe contours would have been better, but i love the notion of mapping inherent in the word topography. i wonder if blogs will be future source material for sociologists or historians looking at historical moments? or are they so ephemeral, they will just fade away? interesting thoughts to ponder on a grey and dark northern day.


will said...

Sigh, I wish we could talk.

Among other things, I don't think blog photos are necessarily good documentary photos. Rarely do we see the awkward, the ugly or the pains of life. I don't recall seeing anything quite as penetrating as Walker Evans or as extensive as August Sander. Few bloggers can do Winogrand or Arbus.

On blogs, there's plenty of 1800s and early 1900s romantic stuff and there's lots of Kodak moments but there are few that reveal and lock meaningful scenes into the subconscious beyond a compositional level.

Ju said...

Well I disagree with Bill, yes, there are a lot of nonsense photography in blogs but nevertheless, they document our personal lives, or how we feel, our era. Most have no pretense, they just want to blog and register events.
I did find this post very interesting and loved the picture.
Anyway, is good to debate.

Barb said...

I love the post and the picture. I think it's beautiful to see your reflection in it. I have really enjoyed your photography since I've been following (not that long, but still). I think someday we will look back on blogs, but in conjunction with all the other ways we document our lives (photo albums, scrapbooks, newspapers and videos).

The Redhead Riter said...

I couldn't DISAGREE with Bill more. Actually, I think he comes across arrogant and things other people say usually don't bother me that much. I do not believe that Walker Evans has cornered the market on meaningful/penetrating photographs.

I believe it is who you are and where you are at in your life that determines the impact of a photo. There isn't a Great Photo Judge and it has always bothered me that just because a few people of prominence says something is good, suddenly it is good even if it is bad!

For instance, blogs are filled with photos of women directly after giving birth holding their newborn. Obviously, none of them have been very "penetrating" to you. But all mothers, which you can not be, immediately "feel" something indescribable beyond all words when viewing them. Words can not describe it, but a very well taken photo can and thus that "feeling" is explained in the photo alone.

Walker Evan's photo of Allie Mae Burroughs found at in MY opinion does not hold great penetrating value, but the photo on this post has far more meaning and depth. Evan's picture isn't that unusual (I have better photos of my great grandmother who also lived through the depression on a farm). This blog photo with the reflection is contemplative. It tells quite a story and records A LOT of history if you really look at it.

Kudos for this photo.

Winogrand? Oh please.

Just my opinion.

Please keep taking pictures. You're awesome. ♥

The pale observer said...

I wouldn't like to get into a debate about whether blogs have great photos - who's to say? The medium is just that - a medium - after all.

But this photo is striking. really a powerful image. I love it.

Bee said...

Really thought-provoking post -- and the comments are interesting, too!

I often wonder if blogs will be a transitory (ie, faddish) medium -- if they will be replaced by something else -- or if they will endure. I have no imagination for thinking about what could exist NEXT technology-wise, but it is difficult to imagine something that could be better at what it does. I agree with you and others: we all get the chance to document our lives. AND get feedback. It's just fantastic.

BTW, maybe it's just me, but I find it interesting that you picked this photograph out of the exhibit. I think that this woman resembles you in a way. Not in terms of personal style, obviously. :)

My name is Erin. said...

I sat and pondered the photo a moment before I actually read your post. I thought it was a really cool photo and I couldn't initially tell how the reflection was part of it. Now I get that it is a photo of a photo, but I have to admit that though I'm sure I'd love the original photo, I LOVE your reflection in your photo. It makes the story that much more rich.

I really enjoyed this post.

My name is Erin. said...

I sat and pondered the photo a moment before I actually read your post. I thought it was a really cool photo and I couldn't initially tell how the reflection was part of it. Now I get that it is a photo of a photo, but I have to admit that though I'm sure I'd love the original photo, I LOVE your reflection in your photo. It makes the story that much more rich.

I really enjoyed this post.

Kikit said...

Very interesting topic.

Our blog pics might mean senseless for some. But I'd like to believe there's one person (or two) out there who appreciates their relevance. :)

christina said...

It's so true. We blog pretty pictures, we blog pictures what might seem meaningless, but the art is not what we show on our blogs, it is behind the photos.
Sh*tty day~ place the most beautiful thing in life on your blog.
Grandma dies~ place a photo of her tea pot.
Get a new job~ post a photo of the shoes you walked the beat in for months, to find this job.
There is meaning to the blogs out here, it just takes heart to see it.

Molly said...

I like the little boy in the picture. At first it's hard to work our whether he's in the original photograph or also a reflection and then, what is he thinking of it all. Is he looking at the woman on the train and being reminded of his own mother/grandmother? A budding fashionista contemplating the print of her dress? A budding photographer contemplating the beauty of your reflection in the glass?
Or just a kid wondering what the crazy lady with the iPhone is doing?

julochka said...

i'm pretty sure the little boy in the picture is IN the picture. and the person behind me who could look like someone looking over my shoulder is actually a different documentary photograph on the wall was a series of photos of homosexuals as children, so it's a little girl at a piano. i'm 99% certain i was alone in the room.

paris parfait said...

I disagree with Bill. Documentary photos are the most powerful of our lives, because they're the most real. And one doesn't have to be a professional photographer of a certain fame to be able to capture real-life's nitty, gritty moments. I'm not referring to those pretty, over-exposed photos that so many people seem to be taking these days, or the fad for photos from Polaroid or Diana cameras. I'm talking about real-life events, the good and bad, the joy and the despair - not just war and news, but the mundane as well. Some photos of very mundane family events won prizes at the World Press Photo 2009. They are brilliant. Documentary photos are terrific, because they're not over-processed; they show people and events as close to reality as possible and are therefore, a chronicle of our times.

kristina - no penny for them said...

i love how you get people to engage into a debate - that's something really quite special about your place here.

i think it's totally valid to ponder what (documentary) photography is and what's not, but maybe that's not what blogging is about in the first place. seems to me that the blogosphere a place with a heart big enough to accomodate all our different approaches.

Elizabeth said...

Since I have zip knowledge about photography (Although Spud explained about the whole ISO thing, which I now get.) I am utterly amazed about all the different angles technicly and a socially.
Interesting new field for me.

This is the last one of your series. All of them so Julie, all of them different.

How does JP feel about blogging now, has it changed already?

I hope to read another 1000 in the years to come.