Documentary Photography - Documenting the World
Documentary photography is a photographic effort whose emphasis is to document and tell a story of the world around us. In short, it chronicles significant changes in the life and existence of a particular subject or subjects.
The principal subjects involved with this style are usually people, but in recent times environmental issues and the struggles faced by a variety of wildlife have come into the scene on their own.
Such an instance is the plight of the polar bears and their struggle for survival which they face due mainly in part to the diminishing polar ice caps and the effects of global warming.
Photographers who specialize in this type of photography will usually spend copious amounts of time following a subject and making daily or weekly photo recordings of the subject and the world around it.
Sometimes they may visit sites where special events have occurred in the past such as Woodstock. Through a compilation of old images and new images which should also include people, the photographer tries to give us an idea of what it was like at the time of the event and how things are now; documenting changes, both to the physical space and to the people involved as well as how society and trends have changed over the years.
This style is often confused with historical documentary photography because it closely mimics the subjects and theme, but it's list of subjects is broader.
Changes to landscapes offer good opportunities to document how changes in climate, population growth, technological and scientific advances have helped shape it. National Geographic Magazine is well known for taking this approach and providing exceptional images from old an new, past and present.
However, the subjects for documentary photography do not always have to be landscapes, nature or personalities, they can also include changes to society as a whole, sections of society or individuals. Towns, cities, neighborhoods are good too.
Sports themes also allow for the opportunity of pursuing this particular type of photography. From the first time an Afro American player was actually allowed to play in the major leagues to the standards of today. For example the change in uniform styles, techniques and players of the NBA. The changes in equipment, coverage and the players themselves from the inception of the NFL to today.
Changes in a country from a societal point of view or from a political standpoint. Wars the before and the after and its results and changes continue to be popular coverage areas for documentaries.
The health field can also provide ample opportunities to conduct this style such as the discovery of the HIV virus and the recent scientific advances to combat it as well as the personalities which have been affected by the disease and the changes in their lives.
The changes can be documented over long spans of time or they can be of short time frames such as the usual preparations that go into effect in the demolition of a landmark or historical building.
The recovery efforts after a natural disaster or a man made one can be recorded over a period of a few months to a few years and many photographers will spend the time necessary to capture a full history.
A well known chapter in the annals of naturalist history is the story of Dian Fossey, an American born naturalist and zoologist who spent nearly 18 years of her life in the jungles of Rwanda in her efforts to protect the endangered mountain gorilla population from poachers.
Ms.Fossey often documented her efforts through photography and received the attention of the world and many publications. Through her efforts and photography, the mountain gorilla was able to starve off extinction.
Archaeological and salvage works are also two areas in which this genre fits well. Often salvage operations can take several days, weeks or months and archaeological work, with its very slow progress and attention to even the most minute of details can take even longer, often years.
Other classical subjects can be social struggles such as the conflict from Apartheid in South Africa or an energy crisis brought on by a natural disaster of a conflict. Issues and stigmas faced by certain members of a society provide an unlimited number of opportunities such as the consequence of leaving a village in Africa or the plight and vicissitudes faced by young women in some parts of the world where arranged marriages are common or disobeying an elder or parent carries dire consequences.
Other less dramatic coverage areas would be such things as a royal wedding, the election of a new Pope, even a rescue attempt of trapped miners. Fashion trends are still popular subjects and its documentation is often requested by the fashion industry.
These images clearly can be included in the realm of photojournalism but they document a much longer experience or slow change and most of the photographers within this genre are self motivated. The images are rarely one or two, documentary photography by its mere nature, involves many images which together forms the basis from which this technique gets its name.
Many of their images end up in news media outlets and other publications, some even are displayed in art galleries and many of these photographers often ink book deals. This work takes persistence, patience and self sacrifice but its efforts are quite often well rewarded.
© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez
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