Documentary photography: Evidence and Identification

The first purpose of photography was to record and use it for scientific reasons. It was a documentary of the truth. Photography was used to see and understand the world; it was a useful tool for an objective view of the world. Through the liberation of subjectiveness, people believed every photograph was a representation of the truth, yet pictures can be manipulated. Documentary photography is used for recording facts rather than something aesthetic. It has a purpose and one does not have to be creative to take a picture like that. Documenting something has a sense of obligation. People might have felt that they have to record everything just because they had a tool now that could do such. Factual reporting was cheap, prompt and had correct facts, or so people thought. John Tagg (1993) raised questions about who made a photo, why, and how. He wanted to understand the picture with asking questions about the photographer. What were his or her intentions with taking the photograph? If you study and understand the content and the background of its making, you can understand the whole picture itself. Photography wasn’t just documenting facts anymore but an expression of the image maker.Photography went from being perceived as truthful to manipulation. One could not trust a picture for sure anymore. It became a subjective outlet for people.

Documentary photography are mugshots, photos at a crime scene, photos for passports, just to mention a few. There are certain requirements for taking a photograph for an official document. The person depicted is not allowed to smile, has to show their ears and look straight into the camera. All documented photographs have to look the same so there are restrictions on how to act on the photo. It has to be objective. Documentary photography takes out the personal touch and just focuses on the facts.


Tagg, J. (1993) The Burden Of Representation. Minnesota: University Of Minnesota Press


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