Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Documentary Photographer Podcast – Episode 11: Jonathon Keats – What Is A Documentary Photograph?

Just what is a documentary photograph?

Like most of you listening to this podcast, I have my own definition of what it is. Maybe unlike you, though, I've never delved much deeper than my own ideas and preconceptions. I had a sense of what worked for me and that was enough.

That's a dangerous road, don't you agree?

It's dangerous because it brings with it the risk of having a blinkered vision. Blinkered vision is something we cannot afford as documentary photographers.

In this episode of the podcast, I have the privilege of speaking with Jonathon Keats. Jonathon is a deep thinker, an artist and and philosopher, a photographer too. He writes for Forbes and reached out to me via email after episode 10 of the podcast aired.

In his email, he highlighted a recent Forbes article in which he discusses the work of Bernice Abbott, in particular her photographs illustrating scientific concepts through photography. He wondered whether they were documentary.

A simple question.

But a complicated answer.

Pondering Jonathon's question made me realize that while I have my own definition of documentary photography, it wasn't perhaps deep or nuanced enough. It was time to explore the concept in a conversation. And who better to discuss this with than Jonathon himself?

To listen to this episode of the podcast, just click the play button at the top of this blog post.

In the podcast, Jonathon and I reference a number of photographs. A few of them are shown below.

This photography, while captivating, doesn't give you all the information © 2010 Roger Overall

This version of the photograph gives more context © 2010 Roger Overall

Daguerre's photograph of Boulevard du Temple, Paris, taken in the spring of 1838. It shows the first known photograph of a human being (bottom left, having his shoes polished)

Links and more info

In the podcast, we touch upon a number of big names in the history of photography, as well as upon Jonathon's writing. You can find out more at the links below. Also included is a link to Mark Cotton's About Me page. If you've listened to the podcast, you'll know why.

Jonathon Keats on Wikipedia
Jonathon's Forbes article about Joel Sternfeld and the pumpkin field photographJonathon's Forbes article on Berenice Abbott
Modernism Gallery, San Francisco
Berenice Abbott
Man Ray
Eugene Atget
Eadweard Muybridge
Joel Sternfeld
Mark Cotton (@mcfontaine)
The Documentary Photographer episode 10: Dave Walsh Interview


You can subscribe to The Documentary Photographer podcast by clicking on any of these links: