Documentary Narrative

The Photo Essay

  • A simple series: each image has something unique, unifying quality that makes the viewer want to see more. Eg Kate Kirkwood Cow Spines.
  • Highlight photo essays: journalistic and centres on an interesting event. Focus on key characters and stages that may or may not be in linear sequence. EgThe Year of the Horse
  • Time-sequence photo essays: a series of events or a process
  • Location photo essays: can be thematic or linear
  • Idea photo essays: a series of photos around a more abstract idea. This is more difficult to sequence.

What is the concept?

write this in one sentence.

  • portrait series
  • linear sequence
  • First edits: narrow down to 100 shots. It is more important that these should work in the context of your essay rather than being the best images. Print these out and experiment with different sequences.
  • Second edit: 20 images. Again experiment with different sequencing.
  • Final edit 10-15. Be ruthless, make sure you are aware of the implications of each image and do not duplicate information.

Creating a series

  • lead photo: needs to be a strong image in terms of composition because it is the shot that will ‘sell the story’ and draw the reader in.
  • scene-setting shot: shows where the story is and the main characters and other core elements.
  • sequential shots: form the main core of the story. These do not necessarily have to be in time sequence.
  • portrait shots: portraits of individuals and groups important to the story – mix of posed and candid shots. Or environmental shots.
  • panoramic shots: with context shots stitched together
  • interactive shots: include incidental information and broadens the understanding of the story.
  • detail shots: close-up shots that help to round things out and add drama.
  • summing up shot: pulls things together and shows the final result. Not necessarily the most important shot, but it needs to be clear.
  • concluding shot: an image that says definitively ‘the end’.

Narrative structure Gustav Freytag (1816-1895)

  • Exposition – shows us who the main characters are, something about their lives. Shows the main character and their goal within the story. There is then an inciting incident that causes conflict .
  • Rising action: is a build up of events as the main character moves towards their goal. Conflict occurs when there is a disagreement with one or more people.
  • Climax: the crunch point
  • Falling Action:
  • Resolution: happy or sad ending. Gives a feeling that this is the end, all strands have been drawn together and everything that needs to be explained has been explained.

Adding text

Not to tell a story but to give some facts. May be image titles single words, captions or short narrative at the beginning and/or end.

Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander (born July 14, 1934) is an American photographer and artist. Friedlander studied photography at the Art Center College of Design located in Pasadena, California. In 1956, he moved to New York City where he photographed jazzmusicians for record covers. In 1960, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded Friedlander a grant to focus on his art and made subsequent grants in 1962 and 1977.

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1960s and 70s: black and white social landscape

His early work was influenced by Eugène Atget, Robert Frank, and Walker Evans.

Working primarily with Leica 35mm cameras and black and white film, Friedlander evolved an influential and often imitated visual language of urban “social landscape,” with many of the photographs including fragments of store-front reflections, structures framed by fences, posters and street-signs.

He also experimented with use of his own shadow as an extra element in the image – giving many of them a more haunted eerie feel of an obvious onlooker to the scene.

1960s social landscape images

1970s images

In 1963, the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House mounted Friedlander’s first solo museum show. Friedlander was then a key figure in curator John Szarkowski‘s 1967 “New Documents” exhibition, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City along with Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus. In 1973, his work was honored in Rencontres d’Arles festival (France) with the screening “Soirée américaine : Judy Dater, Jack Welpott, Jerry Uelsmann, Lee Friedlander” présentée par Jean-Claude Lemagny.

1980s – present

Friedlander now works primarily with medium format cameras (e.g. Hasselblad Superwide). While suffering from arthritis and housebound, he focused on photographing his surroundings. His book, Stems, reflects his life during the time of his knee replacement surgery. He has said that his “limbs” reminded him of plant stems. These images display textures which were not a feature of his earlier work. In this sense, the images are similar to those of Josef Sudek who also photographed the confines of his home and studio.

Stems Images

Some of his most famous photographs appeared in the September 1985 Playboy, black and white nude photographs of Madonna from the late 1970s. A student at the time, she was paid only $25 for her 1979 set. In 2009, one of the images fetched $37,500 at a Christie’s Art House auction.

In 1990, the MacArthur Foundation awarded Friedlander a MacArthur Fellowship.

He was awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Special 150th Anniversary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 2003. In 2005, the Museum of Modern Art presented a major retrospective of Friedlander’s career, including nearly 400 photographs from the 1950s to the present. In the same year he received a Hasselblad International Award. The retrospective exhibition was presented again in 2008 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).

Lee Friedlander monograph America by Car (2010)

Images

All the images in the series are taken from the driver’s point of view, incorporating into the viewfinder all of the familiar architecture of the cockpit (dashboard, rear-view mirror, views from side windows and wing mirrors and so on). This claustrophobia presents an American landscape at odds with the car and its driver; the windscreen forms a barrier between the individual and the landscape beyond. The car can only take you so far into the wilderness. The vast majority of the images in Friedlander’s book were made after 2001, and several images hint towards the international concerns of the past decade and beyond. The road – or, rather, whatever passing motorists will notice – is where political voices are articulated in loud, upper case letters: “WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS”, declares Little Millers diner in Alaska (p. 89). A campaign vehicle covered with pro-Obama stickers (p.104) is a prime example of using a vehicle as a legitimate extension of ideology and identity. [See Martin Parr’s From A to B (1994)].

Endless gas stations, a ubiquitous motif of the road trip narrative, inevitably contribute to the collection.

Concurrent to this retrospective, a more contemporary body of his work, America By Car, was displayed at the Fraenkel Gallery not far from SFMOMA. “America By Car” was on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in late 2010.

Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander (born July 14, 1934) is an American photographer and artist. Friedlander studied photography at the Art Center College of Design located in Pasadena, California. In 1956, he moved to New York City where he photographed jazzmusicians for record covers. In 1960, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded Friedlander a grant to focus on his art and made subsequent grants in 1962 and 1977.

1960s and 70s: black and white social landscape

His early work was influenced by Eugène Atget, Robert Frank, and Walker Evans.

Working primarily with Leica 35mm cameras and black and white film, Friedlander evolved an influential and often imitated visual language of urban “social landscape,” with many of the photographs including fragments of store-front reflections, structures framed by fences, posters and street-signs.

He also experimented with use of his own shadow as an extra element in the image – giving many of them a more haunted eerie feel of an obvious onlooker to the scene.

1960s social landscape images

1970s images

In 1963, the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House mounted Friedlander’s first solo museum show. Friedlander was then a key figure in curator John Szarkowski‘s 1967 “New Documents” exhibition, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City along with Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus. In 1973, his work was honored in Rencontres d’Arles festival (France) with the screening “Soirée américaine : Judy Dater, Jack Welpott, Jerry Uelsmann, Lee Friedlander” présentée par Jean-Claude Lemagny.

1980s – present

Friedlander now works primarily with medium format cameras (e.g. Hasselblad Superwide). While suffering from arthritis and housebound, he focused on photographing his surroundings. His book, Stems, reflects his life during the time of his knee replacement surgery. He has said that his “limbs” reminded him of plant stems. These images display textures which were not a feature of his earlier work. In this sense, the images are similar to those of Josef Sudek who also photographed the confines of his home and studio.

Stems Images

Some of his most famous photographs appeared in the September 1985 Playboy, black and white nude photographs of Madonna from the late 1970s. A student at the time, she was paid only $25 for her 1979 set. In 2009, one of the images fetched $37,500 at a Christie’s Art House auction.

In 1990, the MacArthur Foundation awarded Friedlander a MacArthur Fellowship.

He was awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Special 150th Anniversary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 2003. In 2005, the Museum of Modern Art presented a major retrospective of Friedlander’s career, including nearly 400 photographs from the 1950s to the present. In the same year he received a Hasselblad International Award. The retrospective exhibition was presented again in 2008 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).

Lee Friedlander monograph America by Car (2010)

Images

All the images in the series are taken from the driver’s point of view, incorporating into the viewfinder all of the familiar architecture of the cockpit (dashboard, rear-view mirror, views from side windows and wing mirrors and so on). This claustrophobia presents an American landscape at odds with the car and its driver; the windscreen forms a barrier between the individual and the landscape beyond. The car can only take you so far into the wilderness. The vast majority of the images in Friedlander’s book were made after 2001, and several images hint towards the international concerns of the past decade and beyond. The road – or, rather, whatever passing motorists will notice – is where political voices are articulated in loud, upper case letters: “WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS”, declares Little Millers diner in Alaska (p. 89). A campaign vehicle covered with pro-Obama stickers (p.104) is a prime example of using a vehicle as a legitimate extension of ideology and identity. [See Martin Parr’s From A to B (1994)].

Endless gas stations, a ubiquitous motif of the road trip narrative, inevitably contribute to the collection.

Concurrent to this retrospective, a more contemporary body of his work, America By Car, was displayed at the Fraenkel Gallery not far from SFMOMA. “America By Car” was on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in late 2010.

New Topographics

“New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” was  curated by William Jenkins at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House (Rochester, New York) in January 1975. In his introduction to the catalogue, Jenkins defined the common denominator of the show as “a problem of style:” “stylistic anonymity”, an alleged absence of style.

The exhibition was a reaction to the idealised landscape photography  of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and was influenced by Ed Ruscha who, in the 60s, had made a series of artist’s books with self-explanatory titles such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations, Some Los Angeles Apartments, Every Building on the Sunset Strip and  Walker Evans, who had photographed the vernacular iconography of America in road signs, billboards, motels and shop.

“The pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion,.” “[…] rigorous purity, deadpan humor and a casual disregard for the importance of the images.” Technically, half the photographers were working with 8″×10″; (20 cm × 25 cm) large format view cameras; those who were not were using either square medium format (Deal, Gohlke), or in the case of Baltz, 35 mm Technical Pan, a slow and high-definition Kodak film that the photographer printed on 8″x10″ paper. Only Baltz and Wessel were using regular 35 mm cameras and film. A notable element of the show was that the artists were, or would be, linked with higher education as students, professors, or both—a change from the preceding generations.The shift from craft or self-teaching to academia had somewhat been started by photographers such as Ansel Adams and Minor White, but the new generation was turning away from the approach of these forebears. This was illustrated by the subject matter that the New Topographics chose as well as their commitment to casting a somewhat ironic or critical eye on what American society had become. They all depicted urban or suburban realities under changes in an allegedly detached approach. In most cases, they gradually revealed themselves as coming from rather critical vantage points, especially Robert Adams, Baltz, and Deal.

Photographers

Sean O’Hagan

The show consisted of 168 rigorously formal, black-and-white prints of streets, warehouses, city centres, industrial sites and suburban houses. Taken collectively, they seemed to posit an aesthetic of the banal. …Their stark, beautifully printed images of this mundane but oddly fascinating topography was both a reflection of the increasingly suburbanised world around them, and a reaction to the tyranny of idealised landscape photography that elevated the natural and the elemental.

The prints were in a 20 cm × 25 cm (8″×10″) format except for Joe Deal (32 cm × 32 cm), Gohlke (24 cm × 24 cm – close enough to 8”×10”), and the Bechers with typical European (for the time) 30 cm × 40 cm prints.

However despite their similarities, there were significant differences between the photographers in their reactions to, and portrayal of, the suburban environment and their political conclusions on responses to it.

See Greg Foster-Price and John Rohrbach ‘Re-framing the New Topographics’ 2013 University of Chicago Press

Robert Adams: disappearing wildernesses, pointed his camera at eerily empty streets, pristine trailer parks, rows of standardised tract houses, the steady creep of suburban development in all its regulated uniformity.

Lewis Baltz: stark photographs of the walls of office buildings and warehouses on industrial sites in Orange County.

Joe Deal

Frank Gohlke

Nicholas Nixon: innercity development: skyscrapers that dwarfed period buildings, freeways, gridded streets and the palpable unreality of certain American cities in which pedestrians seem like interlopers.

John Schott

Stephen Shore : shot in colour. It seemed to heighten the sense of detachment in his photographs of anonymous intersections and streets.

Henry Wessel, Jr

Bernd and Hilla Becher: stark images of Pennsylvania salt mines and giant coal breakers were as coolly architectural as their images of German cooling towers and industrial plants. The suggestion was that there was something determinedly European about this new American gaze.

Ecological citizenship and automobility

The works in different ways question our responsibility in relation to the natural environment. Taken at a time of rapid environmental change, commercialisation and often homogenised destruction of the natural wilderness romanticised by Ansel Adams, they aim to promote a sense of responsibility for what Robert Adams calls the ‘half wilderness’.

There is a general concern with the homogenisation and also isolation of much of modern construction and urban sprawl. Roads that cut of and surround dwellings that can only be accessed by cars.

They differ in their approaches to technological advances like the reliance on the motor car. For Shore and Schott however there is more of a celebration of the accessibility and democratisation of life. Shore in particular celebrates the colour and vibrancy of cities and parking lots.

‘Shore’s images may be seen as ignoring environmental degradation…Yet his photographs encourage a sense of wonder and appreciation, even in the most familiar, most mundane spaces’.

There is thus a core message of the exhibition as a whole: we need to notice and appreciate what is around us in the ‘semi-wilderness’ and make sure we preserve and protect what is valuable in it. In terms of human colour and nature. Not relegate ‘conservation’ to an ever-shrinking small protected area of idealised wilderness. It is all important.

Legacy

The exhibition was recreated in various locations: in 1981, six years after its original presentation, it was shown in reduced form at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, UK, under the auspices of Paul Graham and Jem Southam. A large scale presentation of the exhibition was organized in 2009 at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. “New Topographics” began an international tour in 2009, with stagings at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2011 the exhibition was on view at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and later at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum in Spain.

Baltz, Gohlke, and Shore were later commissioned by the French government for the Mission de la DATAR.

The exhibition was very influential in the subsequent developments in both US and European landscape photography, including the work of Andreas Gursky, Paul Graham,  Candida Höfe and  Donovan Wylie.  See the following interviews with LA photographers discussing how they have been influenced by the photographers at the exhibition:

Documentary Photography

(in process)

What is documentary?

The Latin word documentum means, amongst other things, proof or evidence. Director, producer and writer John Grierson (1898-1972) was the first to use the term ‘documentary’ within the visual media in a 1926 article on Robert Flaherty’s 1921 ethnographic film ‘Nanook’.
Until then, realist photography had been accepted as the norm. So it was seen as inherently ‘documentary’ in the sense that it ‘ promoted a systematic recording of visual reality for the purpose of providing information and encouraging understanding of the world (Rogers, 1994)

‘photography itself was the technical analogue to the absolute belief in the legitimacy of appearances, a belief whose philosophical expression was, of course, positivism and whose artistic expression was realism and naturalism’

Solomon-Godeau, 1994, p155)
Arguably all photographs become documents.

Social documentary records the conditions that humans endure and the nature of their interactions with the world. In a practical sense it is the re-creation of a condition or event, something factually accurate that doesn’t contain any falsity or fictional element. Rather than making an account of the subject in words, the photographer chooses to use a method of visual communication to inform the viewer.

Gesture and Meaning pp??

Actually there is no limit to the world of external reality the photographer may record. Every subject is significant, considered in its context and viewed in the light of historical forces. It is the spirit of his [sic] approach which determines the value of the photographer’s endeavour, that plus his technical ability to say what he wants to say..His purpose must be clear and unified and his mood simple and modest. Montage of his personality over his subject will only defeat the serious aims of documentary photography.

McCausland 1939
The development of documentary has been multi-dimensional. Visual recording of events has mushroomed with the spread of visual media like the Internet, iPads and mobile phones. Uploading immediate images has been instrumental in informing us of unfolding events, disasters and conflicts. Instagram meet-ups enable many people to jointly document places and events and share their views on social networking sites. In a sense, then, we have all become documentary photographers.
Listen to Miranda Gavin
Types: reportage, visual ethnography, street photography, travel photography.

Documentary photography: approaches and photographers

The documentary photograph is mute. It doesn’t tell us anything; rather it shows something. But it shows it in a way that offers the viewer the possibility of connecting with it and starting to ascribe meaning to the photograph.

(Navarro 2012 p20)

A documentary [photograph, film] takes an audience to an existing or past reality and is so compelling that they can empathise with mind, emotion and imagination. In that sense documentary is an ambitious creative and critical enterprise.

(deJong, Knudsen and Rothwell 2011, p23)

Documentary testifies…to the bravery or the manipulativeness…of the photographer, who entered a situation of physical danger…human decay…and saved us the trouble. Or, who, like astronauts, entertained us by showing us the places we never hope to go.

Martha Rossler 1992 p308

Key issues

Can documentary photography ever be entirely value-free?
Documentary purports to produce truth and fact for us rather than the connotations required by the photographer, art director or editor. But, all photographs are subjective in the sense that they represent the creator’s interpretation of the scene – the photographer chooses what to take and when, even if they don’t have a conscious motivation.
See Documentary typologies for Eugenics
Where does the boundary lie between social documentary and photojournalism or editorial photography (pp.69–71 of the course reader )?

Ethics, integrity and truth

How will you operate as a photographer?This is a major question relevant to your production ethics.

  • Will you ask permission or will you be a fly on the wall, a ghost who never affects the image?
  • If you tell people what you’re doing, then they’ll react differently to you; they may be guarded or wary of how you’ll portray them.

Photomontage, Mohamed Bourouissa and performance.

The Decisive Moment (or not?)
Spectacle and voyeurism
Street Photography
Portfolio: Shooting from the Hip
Portraits
Can a documentary photographer make a difference?
Reality and hyperreality
Denotation and connotation
Exhibiting documentary images

Key questions in analysing social documentary

• What is the subject of the photograph?
• What was the context?
• Was the photographer working for pay?
• Was the taking of the photograph consensual or non-consensual? (i.e. did the subject agree to have their photograph taken?)
• Does the photograph reveal any particular ‘trademark’ or style of the photographer?
• Is the photograph successful?
• Is the photograph an example of social documentary or is it photojournalism?

Key questions in analysing documentary photographers’ work

• What is the main strength of their practice?
• What makes them different to other photographers working in a similar genre?
• Where do your chosen photographers fall in the social documentary–photojournalism spectrum? Does this matter?
Part the motivation in my image-making is therefore political. Photography as a referential image, or series of images, can raise questions about the complexities, contradictions and challenges in the ‘real world’ in a way that other types of art do not.  ‘Landscapes’ are multi-layered, changing and often manipulated in attempts to shape power relationships between people and groups of people and peoples’ control over and use of ‘nature’ and other resources.