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Documentary Photography

Documentary photography usually refers to a type of professional photojournalism, but it may also be an amateur or student pursuit. The photographer attempts to produce truthful, objective, and usually candid photography of a particular subject, most often pictures of people. The pictures usually depict a certain perspective of the photographer.

Usually such photographs are meant for publication, but are sometimes only for exhibition in an art gallery or other public forum. Sometimes an organization or company will commission documentary photography of its activities, but the pictures will only be for its private archives.

Press photographers

Photojournalists who adhere to generally accepted ethical practices such as those proposed by organizations like the National Press Photographers Association generally strive to make documentary photos instead of posed photos because of the innate power of the candid, unguarded moment in depicting genuine news events. The challenge for that type of photographer is to make pictures of sensitive scenes and moments without changing them by the presence of a camera.

Posing people for an accurate record

If the aim is simply to document something - costume for instance - then sometimes posing people is the best way to make the required clear documentary picture. For instance, the posed "straight up" style of picture pioneered by iD magazine - these were of punks and New Wave youth found on English streets and simply asked to stand against any nearby blank wall. The resulting pictures - the subjects facing the camera and seen from "top to toe" - are a vivid historical documentary photography archive, and have established the posed "straight up" as a valid style of documentary picture-making.

One photographer who was exceptional in his efforts to pose and photograph individuals in their natural environment is found with the works of Milton Rogovin.

Amateur photographers

Sometimes amateurs unintentionally make documentary pictures that are later found to be of great historical value, since they are good images of subjects that have since disappeared forever. The work of Jacques Henri Lartigue would be one notable example.

All text of this article available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (see Copyrights for details).


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