Documentary photography is often used as a synonym for photojournalism, and the documentarians are seen as a different species of the photographer. The idea of a film with a purpose and documentary character can be traced back to France (What Is Documentary Photography 2013). Documents were seen as a form of evidence to teach something or inform. However, even the most abstract photographic images carry an image. It is when a photograph is taken with the lens cap on to create a document of worth; one reaches an entirely different platform. Alfred Stieglitz and his photograph Steerage of 1907 has often been identified as one of the first important documentary photographs.
With the advent of the twentieth century, photography was fast becoming the visual language and a universal agent of informal communication. Photographers were using the new media to reflect the society, whether it was the barbarism of child labor or the degrading conditions of workers city slums (Early Documentary Photography 2004). The outbreak of World War I essentially with its inherent violence produced a new commitment among the photographers to document every aspect of life, and nothing was hidden from the camera’s eye. Documentary photography chronicles significant and historical events under professional photojournalism but may also be amateur and artistic. The photographer shoots events as they are to create truthful and objective photography of a particular subject. The documentary tradition was reinvented in the late 1950s and early ’60s by the American photographers. Photography is all about captured moments and used by photographers to create visual information. The photographic image can trigger thoughts and invoke feelings, forcing the view to pause and ponder. Documentary photographs leave an indelible impression as it captures the passage of time through the camera’s eye. Today, photojournalism is all about speed and news photography tries to keep pace with the world around. However, a documentary is something different and focuses more on the quality of the content and how life is portrayed. Documentary photographers work on an infinite number of situations over a period and describe life in its stark truth (Photojournalism and Documentary Photography 2016). The photographer through documentary work shows the facets of daily existence and the interwoven layers of life. When presented to the audience, the viewers are encouraged to think and use their intelligence and judge based on their skepticism. Photographers such as Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, and Lee Friedlander showcased the world in a different way. Alexey Brodovitch’s photographs of daily life possessed a particular attachment for visual aesthetics with technical sophistication. Diane Arbus was another documentary photographer who produced photographic portraits with a captivating psychological frankness. Lee Friedlander made use of shadows and reflections and transformed a street photograph into a self-portrait (The New Documentary Tradition in Photography 2014). While some of these photographers captured the social landscape of the 1960s in their photos, others addressed the actual outdoor landscape such as Robert Adams. William Eggleston was another documentary photographer who innovated color documentary photography. There are endless examples of documentary photographs. Some of the famous works include “Life in the Trash” by Jose Ferreira, “Stories of Old” by Sorin onisor, “A Glimpse of My World” by Dennis Bautista, “Other Side” by Tomaz Sedej, “Hope Never Dies” by Robert, “Happiness in Simple Life” by Ario Wibisono and many more. (Heart Touching Examples Of Documentary Photography 2011). There is a long list of documentary photographers who have left a mark on the world with their works. A couple of them that are discussed in this paper are GMB Akash, Jeremy Horner, Altaf Qadri, Scanjet Das and M R Hasan. Jeremy Horner is nomadic by nature and wandered into the Himalaya in 1987. His unique work spoke of fusion of light and color and in demand by GEO, Newsweek, and National Geographic. When he saw a film called Koyanisquaatsi, he was sucked in by a powerful experience of watching the dramatic footage of the American landscape. This was the beginning and inspired by Koyanisquaatsi; he began to document his travels in Asia after getting some training and experience as a photographer (Interview with Travel and Documentary Photographer Jeremy Horner 2012). He loves to document as he is inquisitive of other cultures and motivated by travel.For GMB Akash, Photography is his language, and he likes to transform sufferings into photographs so as to poke the ‘spinal chord’ of the world. Photography did not exist for him throughout his childhood. He had no access to photographers and their work. His inspiration comes to be a better human being each day and sees remarkable characters and souls in those who are deprived. He wanted to focus on the sufferings of people and tell their stories and straggles of life. Those human stories strengthen him and propel him on an infinite journey (Interview with Travel and Documentary Photographer Gmb Akash 2012) Altaf Qadri discovered the power of photography when he was a teenager. He witnessed many important political events and grew up in the middle of a mass uprising against Indian rule. The human shield incident when he was used shield by the forces left a mark on his psyche (Interview with Travel and Documentary Photographer Altaf Qadri 2012). Now, he was determined to make the outside world know of the grass root situation of Kashmir conflict. He wanted to depict the genuine suffering of people, and this is what drew him towards photojournalism. Sanjit Das is a self-taught Indian photographer and works on stories worldwide. He realizes how photography gives him an extremely interesting channel to focus on the people as India is rapidly transforming from rural economy to a global superpower. For him, photography is a tool that can be used to influence his audience and make those pictures reach a wider audience. He is drawn towards the narrative form of photography that makes a better communication to an observer (Interview with Travel and Documentary Photographer Sanjit Das 2011).
Mohammad Rakibul Hasan is a based in Bangladesh, and the professional photographer is studying Photojournalism. He has won several international awards in photography and for short films. He believes that a single image can tell many things, and he loves the idea of telling a story via pictures. Documentary film and photography are his favorite, and he thinks that the documentary photographers must know the society in-depth, and they are like visual sociologist (Interview with Travel and Documentary Photographer M R Hasan 2011). He prefers black and white in his documentary project to portray the harshness and avoids colors. Robin Hammond is from New Zealand but presently based in South Africa. His documentaries focus on human rights issues. He shoots stories that need to be told and bring a positive change. Most of his life has been spent traveling between countries. As a documentary photographer, he feels that he needs to have empathy for the subject as well as a very good knowledge, before shooting. The success lies in taking good pictures and identify the story (Interview with Travel and Documentary Photographer Robin Hammond 2011). The documentary is important as it reflects the society as it is as well as the events and social issues. The work of documentary photographers helps in understanding the world in a powerful way and communicate in stronger words, this leaving a much deeper impact on the society. The past years have seen the world and its countries face several issues at global and national levels. There has been plenty of material for the documentary photographers to capture such as terrorism under Islamic State, mass migration, scientific discoveries, gang violence, gun control and many more such topics. These are important stories and photographs that demand attention.
There are several notable exhibitions on documentary photography that are held now and then. A recent exhibition at Salomon Arts Gallery, “NYC Streets Then and Now,” takes you through the 40 years of NYC through the lens of twelve photographers (Moses, Jeanette D." See New York City’s Streets through the Ages 2016). New York City has been a favorite playground for street photographers ever since the initial days of the medium. The city forces the people to live much of their lives on the streets instead of getting tucked away in their homes. Thus, it is no surprise to see some well-known photographers wandering the five boroughs and clicking away life from different perspectives and angles with a camera in hand. “NYC Streets Then and Now,” span the past 40 years of work of 12 New York street photographers with well-known names such as Martha Cooper, Janette Beckman, and Robert Herman as well as contemporary artists such as Jessica Lehman and Aymann Ismail.
The documentary photographers have traveled the world, seen extreme tragedies and captured movement of hope among utter despair. Thought their documentaries, they tell stories that would perhaps remain hidden and unknowns to the rest of the world. They draw attention to the fact that there is much more to see and more that must be understood other than those news bulletins. The documentary photographer can capture those because they have all the time and offers witness to the less visible aspects of life. He reacts almost instinctually and makes the images as a form of storytelling seeking to stir the viewers emotionally and intellectually.
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