When a guest speaker came to my uni and asked a room full of documentary photographers ‘who considers themselves an artist?’ only one person raised their hand. I never considered my photography art and to be honest I didn’t like the idea that someone else would. When I began my first year I viewed art photography as flimsy yet attractive – not informative while still beautiful like the label of documentary photography.
But over the course of two and a half years I’ve learned a lot about my work and how I perceive documentary photography being labelled as art.
Going out into the world and photographing the public isn’t glamorous at all. While working on Silent Communication the members of the Bridge Club expected me to be around for only a day, to snap some shots and to go. One woman told me she thought I was simply there to show the rest of my class what a Bridge club looks like on the most basic level (which sounds like the objectives of the worst degree in the world). I ended up spending three days a week with them for a few months and by the end of it they were making no attempt to hide the fact that they were sick of me.
Had I been doing photojournalism or another kind of photography course maybe I would have been in and out without them even noticing but I’ve realised that’s not what documentary is at all. Documentary is researching and knowing your subject better than anyone else and that means putting a huge amount of time and effort into immersing yourself into it. It means being so familiar with what you’re working with that you’re able to translate someone else’s thoughts and experiences into images. To not call that art I think would be a pity.