Post Documentary Photography – What is Documentary Photography?

John Tagg The Burden of Representation, 1988 quoted, ‘History and the History of Photography are intertwined.  We live in a time that technology has documented and changed social patterns.  This has always been the case.’

He continued, ‘Photography as such has no identity.  Its status as a technology varies with the power relations which invest it.  Its nature as a practice depends on the institutions and agents which define it and set it to work.  Its function as a mode of cultural production is tied to definite conditions of existence, and its products are meaningful and legible within the particular currencies they have.’

‘Like the state, the camera is never neutral.  The representations it produces are highly coded, and the power it wields is never it’s own.’



Images by Jacob Riis.

Martha Rosler In, Around and Afterthoughts (on Documentary Photography), 1981, ‘Documentary Photography has come to represent the social conscience of liberal sensibility presented in visual imagery.’

‘It did not perceive these wrongs as fundamental to the social system that tolerated them.’

‘Documentary testifies, finally, to the bravery or (dare we name it) the manipulativeness and savvy of the photographer, who entered a situation of physical danger, social restrictedness, human decay or combinations of these and saved us the trouble.  Or who, like astronauts, entertained us by showing the places we never hope to go.’

Martha Rosler then continues, ‘Documentary still exists, still functions socially in one way or another.  Liberalism may have been routed, but its cultural expressions still survive.  This mainstream documentary has achieved legitimacy and has a decidedly ritualistic character.  It begins in glossy magazines and books, occasionally in newspapers, and becomes more expensive as it moves into art galleries and museums.  The liberal documentary assuages any stirrings of conscience in its viewers the way that scratching relieves an itch and simultaneously reassures them about their relative wealth and social position.’

‘Documentary is a little like horror movies, putting a face on fear and transforming threat into fantasy, into imagery.’

In the book Post Documentary, Post Photography, 1996, Martha Rosler askes the question, ‘Do documentary photographs humanise their subjects?’

She goes on to say, ‘Documentary, journalistic, and news photography, rather than seeking to promote understanding, may aim to provoke, to horrify, or to mobilise sentiment against a generalised danger or a specific enemy or condition.’

‘The poetics of form can lead to a reception of images as poetic, a form of personalised address that escapes either responsibility or reportorial accuracy, though it may increase the force of truth, but as subjectivised witness rather than objective reportage.’

Simulacra and Simulation Jean Baudrillard quoted that the phases of the image;

– It is the reflection of profound reality;

– It masks and denatures a profound reality;

– It masks the absence of a profound reality

– It has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is it’s own pure simulacrum.

Simulacra and Simulation Jean Baudrillard so explain The Hyperreal and describe it as, ‘The real…no longer needs to be rational, because it no longer measures itself against an ideal.  It is no longer anything but operational. In fact, it is no longer really the real..It is a hyperreal.’



Quotes from University powerpoint.

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