A David, a Tom and two Jacobs
The holiday has given me plenty of time to think about one of my favourite musing topics at the moment – the relationship between art and documentary photography. On one level the distinction can be made very simply – documentary photography seeks to represent. Implicit in this definition is a sense of purpose, the photographer is seeking to draw your attention to something in the real world and presumably has a reason for wanting to do so. However the distinction is slippery and some, including some OCA photography tutors would argue that the distinction is meaningless. I am not in that camp, but I do recognise the challenge.
Here is some work I have been looking at and thinking about:
Firstly, David Favrod is winner of the Aperture Portfolio Prize for 2010 for his work Gaijin. Although the work is clearly fine art practice, scenes are created to be photographed, there is also a drive to represent.
Secondly, I was fortunate to be able to go to the Serpentine Gallery to see a short film by Tom Hunter A Palace For Us. The film made in collaboration with the Skills Exchange and Age Concern Hackney uses family photographs, face to camera interviews and recreated scenes together with a highly evocative soundtrack to create a sense of time and place. There is a short extract together with an insightful review on the Guardian website. The film is viewable at the Serpentine until January 20.
Finally, I was given Jacob Holdt: United States 1970 – 1975. The book is a selection of images which can all be seen on Jacob Holdt’s website The images of shocking poverty immediately evoke comparison with Jacob Riis’ images of New York. United States 1970 -1975 contains a fascinating essay by Christoph Ribbat, which is available to read on Holdt’s website and summarises my initial reaction to the work perfectly
‘At first there’s the sheer organic force of these images. In response a hard, dark knot begins to form in the stomach. That knot grows, tightens, grows again. While looking at some of these images it is entirely possible to work oneself into an almost aggressive “Forget the whole theory-laden-postmodern photography”-attitude or into a state of “Here, in these photos, truth exists”-excitement and toward the conviction that Holt’s old-fashioned ways of seeing can teach us all kinds of things for the early 21st century, can provide us with an ethics of observation, are in fact calling out to us to stop taking apart authenticity in our superintelligent, bloodless fashion and to start looking at the mangled Body of Man, at the victims of our lifestyle…’
The full text is here and is well worth a read. As we expand to range of photography options available to study with the OCA this year, I expect the nature and limits of documentary photography will be a heated topic for discussion with our course leaders and tutors.