Documentary photography

Until recently, concept of “documentary photography” was absent in the professional language of photographers. Today it denotes the genre of photography, depicting events and phenomena of a social nature through a deep immersion in the subject.

Documentary photography black and white shot Moscow

History of the genre

As a concept, documentary photography appeared in the United States during the Great Depression. In 1935, a group of photographers received an assignment from the government to create photographic documentation of rural life in America. The task was extremely clear: to portray in the works of impoverished villagers, avoiding artistry. Thus, even then the main canons of the documentary photo were laid, which are still relevant today.

At the origins of the genre were such photographers as Edward Curtis, Peter Henry Emerson, Karl Bulla and many others. A large number of works relating to the classics of this genre were created after the appearance and distribution of rangefinder and small 35-millimeter cameras. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Alfred Eisenstedt, Eugene Smith, Harry Winogrand and William Eggleston can be attributed to the meters and classics.

Documentary photography: specifics

Often this type of photo solves the problems of photojournalism, which is why it is quite often attributed to its genres. Many are of the opinion that photodocumentaryism mainly has to perform informational functions, but for some it has become much more than just fixing any hot spots and retelling the plot. She demonstrates the author’s view on the problem being addressed and calls for certain actions.

If we analyze the various sources, we can identify the main features that distinguish this genre from others:

• capturing a social problem that resonates;

• aesthetics of frames combined with their naturalness and realism;

• usually it is several photos or even a whole unfolded series of photos related to each other by a common theme or idea;

• as a rule, this genre is closely connected with political trends and itself claims political influence;

• documentary photography is public.

Often the picture is supplemented with text that describes the captured event, often made by the photographer himself. Modern documentary photography has gone beyond the narrative of topical issues, it is increasingly manifested in the subjective position of the photographer, his author’s style and opinion. But the information function, which distinguishes it from other genres, still remains the leading one.

Documentary photographs are unique, truthful and direct visual historical and artistic testimonies of certain events, which are based on a serious plot. In the documentary photo, they distinguish their subgenres: street photography, chronicle, typology, social reportage. The division, of course, is very conditional.

One of the most sought-after photo documentaries is social reporting. Another type of photography that is popular with both professionals and amateurs is street photography. Its difference is the absence of an obvious social orientation: ordinary things and people are depicted in situations that are usual for themselves. Nothing artificial, everything is extremely “honest.” This is what bribes the shots.

Is it still actual?

Our world is not perfect, alas, there have always been and will be social problems that require close attention of society. The task of the photographer, shooting in the genre of documentary photos, as accurately as possible to reveal this or that event or phenomenon.

As a rule, photodocumentists present their works to the public in books, albums, or at exhibitions. A large number of documentary projects have become known through the pages of newspapers and magazines. Some materials are used to create films and broadcasts. Great opportunities for self-realization is the Internet.
Documentary photography gives a sense of truthfulness, sincerity, and genuineness. To capture and capture the bright moment as accurately as possible, while not contributing anything artificial to it, is not an easy task.

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