Theory of Documentary Photography


Brett Abbott Engaged Observers in Context Paul Getty Museum 2010, ”A Self-assigned form of reporting that tackles big-picture problems in a nuanced and evocative fashion, building up arguments through a series of images made over long periods of time and from an informed experiential point of view.”

”Independent photographers combine their skills as reporters and artists, developing extended photographic essays that delve deeply into humanistic topics and present distinct personal visions of the world.”

John Grierson then goes on to say, ”Documentary is the selective dramatisation of facts in terms of their human consequences.”

Brett Abbott continues, ”So called human documents are personal, heartfelt, and emotional.  Social documentary work can depict how a situation feels and not just how it looks; it can convey factual information about the world compellingly by delivering it in emotionally charged ways.”

Photographer Lauren Greenfield’s ‘Girl Culture’ images are an example of Abbott’s theory. Lauren Greenfield photographed images of both young and old women in social situations. Her images highlight the pressure that some females go through in life, in order to be perceived in a way that society’s standards class ‘beautiful’.

An image I found most powerful that conveyed exactly what the situation was, the image of the young woman in an hospital gown captioned, ‘Erin, 24, is blind-weighed at an eating disorder clinic in Coconut Creek in Florida. She has asked to mount the scale backward so as not to see her weight again.’ It shows the importance of mental health problems and eating disorders, issues that are most common for young women to have. I feel this image is powerful as it really portrays the emotions that the female is going through and could also educate young women and act as a deterrent to extreme dieting.

All images from/belong to


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In the book Engaged Observers, Documentary Photography since the Sixties Lauren Greenfield explained her Girl Culture images and the message she wanted to convey. She has also published a book titled, ‘Thin’. The book describes her encounters with young women with eating disorders and includes her documentary photography.




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