Musings on creativity for photographers and artists by Rob Hudson

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Isn't it about time we stopped using the term ’documentary photography’?

“There is no way events in the world can be directly recorded in our brains, they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way. Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories that we tell each other and ourselves, the stories we continually re-categorise and refine. This sort of sharing, of communion would not be possible if all our knowledge, all our memories were tagged as private and seen as exclusively ours. Memory arises not only from direct experience, but from the intercourse of many minds.”
Oliver Sachs, from “Speak, Memory” New York Review of Books, 2013.

Isn't it about time we stopped using the term ’documentary photography’? I suppose ’Department of Narrative Photography’, or ’narrative photographer’ doesn't quite have the ring of seriousness contained the the word ’documentary’, but it  is certainly more honest given the above.

Changing the name would have wider impacts; no longer would we have to discuss the ’truth’ of photography, or read articles complaining that one image didn't change the world - and that would certainly be a relief.

It would also give a greater legitimacy to more creative expression in photography that has been been decried as mere ’pictorialism’ for generations. And perhaps, we'd be open to a more collaborative approach to better explore the ’many minds’.

If we think of ourselves as novelists or even poets instead of documentarists then a whole new world of possibility opens before us. Creative possibilities that offer a more mature and honest perspective for the future direction for photography. The possibility of imagination that might help us reconcile meaning in our lives through small insights and a sense of shared common perspective much like good literature. Hey, it might even be more fun!

In truth, this is already what the best ’documentary photography’ is doing, despite the name. But we’ll never know the hindrance of a name until we change it.

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