Old and new documentary

Old documentary artists

Ken Domon

Domon learnt his ropes at Kotaro Miyauchi Photo Studio in 1933 after getting expelled from law school due to his involvement in radical politics. He is known for documenting post-World War 2 Japan, focusing on the people and society. His works revolve chiefly around three groups of people; the (mainly children of) coal miners of Kyushu, children of Tokyo, and survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. He is a proponent of realism in his photography, where it is quoted by him as “an absolute snapshot that is absolutely not dramatic.” In the same book where he made the aforementioned quote, he has also said that his goal was to make a direct connection between the camera and the motif.

Images retrieved from http://www.domonken-kinenkan.jp/domonken/

Jacob Riis

Riis was Danish by birth, he migrated to the United States in 1870 and began work as a reporter and photographer much later after doing a series of odd jobs. Riis began shooting the slums of New York city at night in 1887, being one of the pioneers of flash photography in America. His wish was to let the middle and upper classes learn of the squalor of the slums. He is also known to have been friends with Theodore Roosevelt when the latter was the New York City police commissioner. Riis was also known to have improved the quality of public water works via his photo documentation of how towns directly sewered waste water into the New Croton Reservoir.

Images retrieved from http://www.museumsyndicate.com/artist.php?artist=930

New documentary artist

Chris Jordan

Jordan was known to have worked with composites of garbage in his work, but is more renowned for his ongoing series on the Laysan albatrosses in the Midway region, where parents feed the young hatchlings plastic pieces that were mistaken for food. Jordan wants to show the carcasses of the albatrosses as a macabre reflection of what human consumption has done, and similar to the albatrosses, humans could not differ what is harmful from what is necessary.

The first image below is from Jordan’s work Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption (2003-2005), and the others from Midway: Message from the Gyre (2009-current)

Difference in new documentary

In my definition of new documentary, I find that the line between narrative work and documentary has been blurred significantly, with the advancement of portable photographic and audio recording technology. There has also been more ‘breaking of the fourth wall’, where artists of new documentary include way more social interaction and attempt to leverage more upon social issues.

Documentary photography vs photojournalism

I believe that photojournalism has more bias over documentary photography due to agencies that have a certain motive or political bias (like Fox News) and Straits Times (where for some reason, opponents of the ruling party are always photographed looking like hobos). Duration-wise, documentary photography involves projects that span across a long time period versus the immediacy of photojournalism.