Since documentary photography is both a large and nebulous genre that sometimes blends into other approaches, the simplest way to characterize it is as a narrative one.
Definition of Documentary Photography
Photographs taken in the documentary style are meant to show the world as it really is. Rather than focusing solely on aesthetics, it seeks to capture the essence of the subject at hand. Photographers specializing in documentary work typically try to capture natural, unposed moments without tampering with or influencing their subjects.
The term “documentary photography” refers to a subgenre of photography intended to record everything of historical significance, from major events to ordinary life.
The beauty of this method is that it can be utilized by anybody from budding artists and fine art photographers to seasoned journalists and historians.
Any photographer may benefit from being a traveler, whether they are seasoned pros or first-timers, because of the unique point of view they bring to a new location.
Important Documentary Photography of the 20th Century
The Americans – Robert Frank
The Americans, a film about life in postwar America, was based on a novel by Robert Frank that came out in 1958. The book is a sorrowful poetry about America and offers a difficult portrayal of a time that was marked by enormous cynicism regarding modern ideals and was suggestive of pervasive loneliness; it is widely regarded one of the most important works of photography.
Jack Kerouac saw this firsthand and, in his introduction for The Americans, wrote:
“That crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral, that’s what Robert Frank has captured in tremendous photographs taken as he traveled on the road around practically forty-eight states in an old used car and with the agility, mystery, genius, sadness, and strange secrecy of a shadow photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film.”
Frank’s photographs remove the compositional neatness and emotional remoteness of earlier photography. This is why the making of The Americans is celebrated as a major achievement in documentary filmmaking.
The Great Depression – FSA
The Farm Security Administration (F SA) of the United States government used photographers between 1935 and 1943 to capture the grim reality of the Great Depression’s widespread poverty.
Due to economic reasons, a large number of people moved across state lines, and their journey throughout the country was recorded for future generations. Dorothea Lange’s photo “Migrant Mother” is one of the most well-known photos to come out of this time period.
Prague Invasion – Josef Koudelka
The history of photography may include no shorter or more well-known documentary than this one. In August of 1968, Josef Koudelka returned to Prague on a school trip to Romania one day before the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
Koudelka spent a week continuous documenting the terror and despair felt by the citizens of Prague, shooting everything from tanks and protests to a lyrical image of a wristwatch signaling the start of the invasion.
Country Doctor – W. Eugene Smith
W. Eugene Smith was well-known for taking extraordinarily long to complete his works. Smith’s Country Doctor is, without a doubt, one of my favorite works with a documentary style. When this work was initially released, it was hailed as a classic.
With his keen eye for storytelling, Smith established himself as a documentary photography master. He was one of the 20th century’s most ardent and prominent photojournalists. Country Doctor followed Dr. Ernest Ceriani as he visited many rural areas to provide medical care for their residents.
Geography of Poverty by Matt Black
Matt Black, an American photographer, has been working tirelessly to capture the Great Depression, just like the FSA did at that time. The scope and importance of Black’s work place it squarely among these other great works.
Black visits more than seventy cities and villages across the United States to chronicle the one element that unites them all: poverty. The work has been described as “A journey through forgotten America.”
Tramps – John Free
Even though John Free isn’t as well-known as some of the other photographers on our list, he has my undying admiration. However, his job perfectly exemplifies what it means to do “meaningful work.” Even though I don’t know if he’s finished his project on tramps or not, I had to share his work because of the great heart and sensitivity with which he captured the lives of the wanderers and travelers who relied on the train.
Using the Documentary Approach While Traveling
Amateurs as well as professionals may utilize documentary photography to record their trip experiences. Despite the fact that many people throughout history have covered similar ground, there will always be enormous value in the process of investigation and documenting itself.
The ability to tell a story while recording your adventures is another plus. Spending a significant amount of time learning about the location you want to visit gives us a distinct advantage.
Travel photographers shouldn’t be disheartened by the fact that a lot of ground has already been covered in photography and other fields from a variety of angles and viewpoints. Instead, we need to be encouraged to think creatively and try something new. Through photography, we can all share our unique perspectives and interpretations of the world around us.
A photograph is only a record of the world as we view it. Before seeing or experiencing anything for the first time, it is crucial to read about it and ask questions about how it was done.
With so little time at our disposal, it’s crucial that we have a solid plan in place for the narrative arc of our documentary work before we go off. We’ll fine-tune and perfect our approach to this endeavor as we gain experience and expertise.
Every successful documentary photography project begins with careful preparation and an unmistakable vision for the final product. Without them, we will have a much more difficult time achieving our goals, what with the disruptions and restrictions that travel frequently entails.
We’re able to observe things that natives overlook because of our unique viewpoints.
I was taken by complete surprise during my brief stay in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I am from El Salvador, where pedestrian crossings are routinely disregarded because of the chaos in the streets and because they are seldom visible because of a lack of maintenance and repainting.
I had never encountered anything like the well-ordered and respected pedestrian crossings I witnessed in Buenos Aires before. They were strategically placed and brilliantly painted, serving an essential function in the metropolis. I realize this may sound ridiculous, but trust me when I say that you will never encounter something like this in my nation.
This happy coincidence inspired me to write a short article in which I describe the intimate connection between the city’s pedestrian crossings and its inhabitants. It’s not necessarily a great piece of art, but it was made possible by the outside viewpoint that only a visitor could bring to a well-established culture.
Documentary Photography | Conclusion
Before setting out on a trip to gather information, try to narrow down on a certain topic you’d like to capture. Trust your gut and realize that you can provide the world a distinct viewpoint; you’ll be astonished at how many projects have previously been done on certain themes.
Keep your own sense of humor and originality while you travel; you never know when you can find something utterly offbeat that the natives of a nation or place have entirely missed. The finest examples of travel photography ever captured. Imagine: you’re the one whose camera lens catches sight of the next priceless gem.