So just what is Documentary photography?

25 March 2019

SIG: Digital Imaging Thames Valley

At the DIG Thames Valley Centre on 24 March, Janey Devine FRPS laid the foundations for defining what 'documentary' photography actually is! Our audience soon realised that it stretched back to some of the very first photographs, and that there were a variety of definitions. But it became clear to all that it is broader than one might at first think, and can allow for plenty of interpretation and variety of styles to convey 'the message'. We saw that it was a branch of photography that often needs a 'back story' to complete the communication with the viewer. Also significant in the story-telling was the need to present the story through a series of images, rather than individual photographs.

After setting the scene, Janey showed us several projects. 'Fish and Chips' was about the decline of the fishing industry on the north-east coast, and the extent of potato farming south of the Humber. This was set in the very human context of the way of life in the area, and the impact of social and economic change on its people. Another project was 'The Potteries', again showing the decline in industry in Staffordshire, but also the rise in niche industries and museum shops to both draw visitors to the area and keep essential artisan skills alive. 'The Forgotten Coast' showed the impact of the decline of the coal industry, and its impact on the people whose livelihood once relied on it.

All of these stories were conveyed with particular impact both through Janey's attention to meticulous research of her subject, and also through her personal style of image presentation - for instance creating a 'grungy' appearance (Janey's description!) when the image and the message required it.
It was interesting that Janey talked about 'going somewhere away from home territory' to fulfil these projects, because one sees the place with fresh eyes as an outsider - nothing is familiar, one sees things afresh. However she questioned that, and has now embarked on a project about her home town of Southampton, about which she allowed us a preview of the project in AV format.

All in all, a fascinating and thought-provoking day, and we're sure that at least some attendees have come away with fresh ideas for projects - even possibly providing inspiration for an 'A' panel. Thank you, Janey!

Words and photo by Alan Cross LRPS