How I came to know Documentary Photography

Updated: May 10, 2020

When I first started the BA Fine Art course at Aberystwyth University, I was set on becoming a painter as this was the medium that I was most comfortable in. Although, I was open to undertake all the different mediums offered to gain knowledge and become a better artist. In the first semester of the first year, the main focus was on building technique and expressing yourself, which was really interesting but I felt that there was something missing, so when the second semester came around and I had the opportunity to experiment with something I had never dabbled with before and this made me excited. I fell in love with two mediums: traditional photography and screen printing, both of which are very hands-on and practical.

At this point my ambition of becoming a painter was fading and my love for other mediums of art was growing and since it was the end of semester two - leading into year 2, I had to decide in which two disciplines I would like to specialise. Since I knew that painting would always be an accessible medium to me, I chose to specialise in photography and screen printing. These two disciplines complement each other as there is a technique where one is able to transfer a photograph onto the screen for printing. I enjoyed both mediums and learned so much, but my heart was with photography. I went on to spend triple the amount of time researching and experimenting with photography than I would have done with screen printing, and this was demonstrated in my final body of work.

One of my first photography projects was documenting my nana's dementia, and as I was still learning about the practice and the process I, myself was quite naive, but by the next semester (year two) I felt that I had a better grip on what I wanted to achieve and how I was going to do it. By this point, I had travelled to Naples, Italy to photograph the Antica pizzerias and produced a book containing images to document the pizzerias and informative text alongside them.

Fading Away, 2018.

Cover of my book:

Le Pizzerie di Napoli.

I had fallen in love with seeing things from another perspective and touching on subject matter that I felt was overlooked by people which needed to be shared and documented. Dorothea Lange was one of the first documentary photographers that I came across and I became fascinated with not only her work, but her. Lange touched on raw subjects but in a very sympathetic and caring way and was able to portray every emotion in a single image.

There are many documentary photographers who cover various subjects and have diverse personalities, but I want to be a photographer who is able to portray the meaning behind the image, to capture a moment and share it for the world to see and appreciate what is happening around us. I want to freeze the moment in time, so one can look back in years to come and remember and reminisce. I understand that as a photographer, some subject matter will be delicate and perhaps even unpleasant to document, but it is equally important to capture the good and the bad as both are worth recording for years to come.

Dorothea Lange

Crossroads Store, North Carolina

July, 1939.

“You know, so often it’s just sticking around and being there, remaining there, not swooping out in a cloud of dust: sitting down on the ground with people, letting children look at your camera with their dirty, grimy little hands, and putting their fingers on the lens, and you just let them, because you know that if you will behave in a generous manner, you are apt to receive it, you know?” – Dorothea Lange

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