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Photography 2: Documentary Fact and Fiction

Course Level: 2 (HE5) | HE Credits: 60 | Approx. Duration: 15 months at 10hrs/week


In this course you will explore historical and contemporary strategies (a combination of technical, visual and conceptual methodologies) in documentary photography. You will expand your awareness of contexts and frameworks in which to develop your personal practice and photographic vision. You will engage in critical debate and consider relevant social and cultural perspectives, including the ethics of representing conflict, suffering and other peoples and cultures. You will be encouraged to develop a reflexive practice that involves the realisation of your own ideas into compelling visual products. This course fosters a documentary approach underpinned by the ideas of the documentary photographer as anauthor and documentary photography as a tool for communication.

You will be encouraged to develop further your visual communications skills and convey rich narratives in your photographs, incorporating elements of the semiotics of the image. This course has a marked contemporary bias and includes topical issues in current documentary practice such as the acceptance of the art gallery as a new site of discourse for documentary and the emergence of documentary fictions as effective storytelling devices. Throughout the course you will be invited to show increasing autonomy and to interact with the wider community of learners at the OCA.


This course aims to:

  • A1 provide the support for you to learn and develop visual and conceptual strategies in contemporary documentary practice and situate your own practice within this framework.
  • A2 help you identify the wider social, cultural and economic implications that underpin an ethical documentary practice.
  • A3 equip you with the skills that you need to produce visual material that integrates ideas that you previously conceptualised and realised.
  • A4 build your critical, analytical, evaluative and reflective skills.
  • A5 help you develop your personal voice and broaden your communication and storytelling skills.


On successful completion of the course you will:

  • LO1 have detailed knowledge of visual and conceptual strategies and awareness of the contexts and frameworks in documentary photography
  • LO2 demonstrate wider social and cultural implications in photography and be able to debate relevant ethical perspectives.
  • LO3 be able to reformat and realise a range of ideas, evaluate their relevance and integrate them in the production of visual material.
  • LO4 be able to manage learning resources, exhibit self-appraisal and interact effectively within a learning group.
  • LO5 be able to start developing a personal voice and apply communication skills effectively and with increasing autonomy.

Course content

  • Documentary traditions. B&W and colour documents. Rethinking the documentary vision.
  • Documentary ethics. Representing conflict, suffering and “the other”.
  • The portrait as document. Photography, anthropology and human typologies.
  • Urban documents – street photography as a documentary genre.
  • Subverting the photographic evidence – documentary fictions.
  • New sites of discourse – documentary in the art gallery.
  • Reflexive practice and intentionality – the documentary photographer as author.
  • Narrative, storytelling and semiotics of the image.