What is documentary photography?

In this latest video, Miranda turns her attention to the thorny question of documentary photography, photojournalism and reportage something Jon Levy talked to Jose about earlier this year, so it is interesting to contrast their ideas. In the video Miranda refers to Latitude Zero a body of work by Monique Stouder, which I certainly had not come across before. Here is a link.


  1. Jim 1 November 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Miranda asks a lot of questions here! It seems to me that there are few clear cut answers possible to some of the definitions that form the subject of the video. Even if definitions could be agreed, they would not be permanent, and as Miranda notes it is difficult to classify individual photographs as art, documentary, reportage, etc.

    This raises the question “What’s the point then?”

    For me the point is the reflection that such categories engender, particularly when trying to locate a particular photograph in a genre, or two, or three. It’s not the categories, but the process of thinking about them that matters.

  2. Catherine 1 November 2011 at 12:34 pm

    I really appreciate Miranda’s ability to simplify/clarify complicated issues. Having just broadened my mind through a visit to the Postmodernism Exhibition at the V&A, it seems quite odd that we still have to consider discrete categories of photography, as opposed to multi-dimensional talents. Yes – I know it’s necessary so that people can find their way around Art etc, but wouldn’t it be good to find a clear, visual, means to embrace this concept.

  3. AMANO 1 November 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Mirandra reminds me here of the occidental approach of categorising phenomena almost to the point of obsession. Everything is neatly and logically laid out but it does not make a lot of sense because life is not really like that. One reason I photograph is because it can make better sense of the world than many abstract theories.
    There is that famous scene in Hamlet where Polonius responds to various suggestions in the shapes of clouds. Theory is all about clearing away those clouds yet sometimes creates yet more.
    “I photograph therefore I am?”

  4. Nigel Monckton 2 November 2011 at 6:17 pm

    It seems to me there is a continuum from documentary through to creative as Miranda implicitly defines them, and that fine art is around the middle of that continuum i.e. it has elements of both. If you want a visual analogy it’s like the electromagnetic spectrum with radio waves at one end and gamma rays at the other and in the middle is visible light
    It is a practical issue for Miranda because she’s trying to lay out a magazine – is it an issue for the rest of us? I think the answer is probably yes, because in trying to make sense of a new body of work it is helpful to have a general understanding of the context, history and influences which inform that work. The category is a helpful shorthand for that, in much the same way as pop and orchestral are useful shorthand for certain music genres.
    Where it becomes unhelpful is where people try to pigeonhole artists so that they find it hard to develop, or where they constrain their own understanding by seeing the categories as stereotype rather than shorthand.

  5. John Umney 2 November 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I would say that Miranda’s reasonably clear statement on category is perfectly valid from an editor’s (deputy) position. It is whether the photographer follows that advice in order to improve the potential for publication or follows their artistic impetus and see if it fits any of Miranda’s or any other commissioning editor’s criterion. In other words – to Nigel’s point – we shouldn’t expect a comercial enterprise to neatly open pidgeon holes that fit each of us, especially in a market that is as small as ours and in a tiny country like our own. The publication is answerable to its investors first, its customers second and its contributors last.

  6. Gary Bridger 4 November 2011 at 2:52 am

    As an over seas student , thinking ? Do I come back home and make a go of photography again. I do wonder where what and how, I am 1/2 way through. And desperate now to find income. I have thousands of images . From land scape to culture, and wild life, As Miranda has pointed out. This has been my battle all along. What is fine Art. Documentry. As I said on my blog. Back and white can turn an everyday photo, into fine Art. Or It can be viewed as being used for journals. This depends on the Quality , This also goes back to Miranda’s last interview. On What is the ordinance. I am now thinking this when I shoot my picture. One brick wall I a breaking down now. Is assignment 4 magazine front page, Is it real. I have so much work. Yet little that offers that area to make the perfect front page. For the subject I chose. As for documentary photography. A wild life close up, must be HD sharp with detail. Again , Its the battle of who owns the 21MP .to get the crisp shot, taken on under 400 ISO composed perfectly . That will get picked for the publication.

  7. Peter Haveland 4 November 2011 at 12:36 pm

    “Back and white can turn an everyday photo, into fine Art” only if the image was a piece of fine art in the first place. Silk purses do not come from sow’s ears!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.