Before I start

As I did for my other Level 2 course Gesture & Meaning, I’m going to review and pick out the interesting points from the Introduction and Before you start sections in the course notes. My thinking is that I should capture now the points that caught my eye before I got to work, and occasionally check back in with these notes to see if I’m learning anything as I go along :-)

Why Documentary?

Before that though, I want to try to articulate my reasons for taking the Documentary module. A glib answer would be that it was a process of elimination as I didn’t fancy Landscape or the Digital one. But that wouldn’t be the real reason: I am genuinely drawn to the documentary genre in all its forms. I’m very much interested in photographs that are not only of something but also about something.

On my last Level 1 course Context & Narrative I developed a deep interest in the notion of photography as a language, a form of communication that can be filled with intent, or open to interpretation; images that are in some sense or other thought-provoking. I’d like to produce photographs that say something (beyond “this looks pretty”).

As a comparison, the highly constructed end of photography (advertising, fashion, tableaux, masquerade etc) isn’t my passion; I prefer to capture than to construct.

So here we are.

Course introduction

I’ve picked out a few phrases that jumped out at me; these may or may not form some kind of guiding principles for this module. We’ll see.

  • explore some historical and contemporary strategies in documentary photography
    • ‘strategies’ = a combination of technical, visual and conceptual ways of engaging with the world using photography
  • underpinned by idea of the documentary photographer as an author and documentary photography as a tool for communication
  • encouraged not just to observe and witness the world around you but also to comment on it, express yourself photographically, convey an opinion and ask questions of the viewer
  • reflective: being able to comment on social and cultural implications and debate relevant ethical perspectives
  • reflexive: acknowledging that your own cultural and socio-economic background, your expectations and preconceptions about the subjects you photograph affect the outcome of your practice

Course aims

This is somewhat shorter than the G&M equivalent so I will reproduce in its entirety here but with my own emphasis:

“Photography 2: Documentary aims to support you in developing visual and conceptual strategies in documentary photography and situating your own practice within that framework. The course will help you to identify the wider social, cultural and economic implications that underpin an ethical contemporary documentary practice.

The projects, exercises and assignments in this course aim to equip you with the skills that you need to conceptualise your ideas and realise them into visual products. You’ll build your critical, analytical and reflective skills so that you can develop your personal voice.”

Course outcomes

Again with my own emphasis:

On successful completion of the course you’ll be able to:

  • demonstrate detailed knowledge of visual and conceptual strategies in documentary photography and awareness of the contexts and frameworks in which to develop your own practice
  • show awareness of wider social and cultural implications in documentary photography and be able to debate relevant ethical perspectives
  • reformat and realise a range of ideas, evaluate their relevance and integrate them in the production of visual material
  • manage learning resources, exhibit self-appraisal and interact effectively within a learning group
  • start developing a personal voice and apply communication skills effectively and with increasing autonomy

The only part of this not immediately making sense is the “reformat and realise a range of ideas“. But I’m sure this will become clear.

Reading list

Having slightly over-bought for G&M (some of the ‘optional’ books seem very tangential at the moment but at least I got almost all of them very cheap second-hand) I’m being a little more selective on Documentary.

I was pleased to see that I had a good few of the suggested books already: Camera Lucida, Bate, 2x Sontag, Wells, Dyer, Street Photography Now. The new ones I’ve invested in are the Mary Warner Marien, Durden, Barson, Bright & Williams and the Wells essay compilation.

Right. That’ll do for the preamble. On with the actual course.


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