Documentary Photography: The Paradox of Reality

In an age of technical advancement and digital prominence in photography, discussions about manipulation and truth within images are more important than ever. As Francisco Mata Rosas writes in ZoneZero, documentary photography is becoming increasingly difficult to define, and continues to face tensions regarding what it means to be a ‘real’ versus ‘staged’ photograph.

Documentary photography has been generally understood as depicting without getting in the way of a natural occurrence. Yet to look at renowned documentary photographers is to see anything but natural and unposed subjects captured in action. In a recent case, evidence surfaced that French documentary photographer Robert Doisneau had actually staged his famed photo “The Kiss,” complete with arranged movement and an out-of-focus foreground. Yet the artist emerged from the ordeal with the ideas surrounding the photo hardly changed – the notion that it captures a feeling and an age still intact.

Though not all photography is documentary in nature, Rosas believes that all photography can be read from a documentary perspective – responding to “uncertainties, doubts, affirmations or negations of an epoch and the particular context of the creator.” To document, Rosas writes, is “To interpret and communicate–to be capable of perceiving and transmitting–to reflect and share, to clarify by questioning, to question by affirming, to negate by showing, to help by hiding, to combat by unfolding, to understand by confronting.”
–Erica Sagrans
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