Time & Context . Exercise What makes a document?

Read the post “What makes a document?” on the We/AreOCA, including all the replies to it, and write your own comment both on the blog page and in your own blog. Make sure that you visit all the links on the blog post.

Is it time or is it context that makes a document? Or is it something else?

A document  provides information and proof that something happened but does a photograph have to be understood to be actually considered a document?   I love old photographs and Jose’s photograph of his grandfather is an interesting one, a photograph from the family album. The image shows two men, an officer and a priest with their backs to a wall , but without context and additional supporting evidence the photograph becomes , as quite rightly pointed out by Anned ” much less reliable as a document” . Nevertheless as a record the image exists in its own right regardless of meaning and I agree with RobTM who observes it is still “inherently a document”. Jose comments “back in the family album this photograph becomes again what it was always meant to be : a family photograph”  but I feel this does not lessen it’s importance as a record with personal meaning. Family histories passed orally down the generations are rather like Chinese whispers distorting events at each re-telling, and as Jose remarks “the story changes , however subtly” , hence it is inevitable that the context will change over time. 

The image of Gaddafi is an intriguing one , taken before his death it now serves as a reminder to me of his ignoble end and fall from power ,  certainly not what it perhaps was intended to symbolise orignally . As succinctly said by Richard Down “history has expanded the context” altering how Jose’s image may be interpreted. Hence time modifies and  supplements our understanding but this is not needed to create a document. It does  enhance our knowledge but as noted by Mattjamesphotos   “any photograph is a document to somebody”.Additionally , as  Jim DN Smith, Pdog19 and Kerrieleeb  point out , our personal background, be it age , ethnicity , sex , religious or political belief,  will influence how a photograph is read and what is understood by it.

Kerrieleeb raises an interesting topic “ The way we have taken photographs has changed and many now will grow up without even seeing many prints possibly . Does that mean it is not a document , if there is no physical print?”  A on-line dictionary definition of document states it is a piece of written , printed , or electric matter that provides information  but ( being a dinosaur and of a certain age ! )  I find it strange to think of images on the Web as being considered documents , I like the physicality of prints.  Snapchat is an app that allows users to share their images but the recipient can only view for up to 10 seconds before the photograph is deleted , are these , albeit very short lived , documents too ?


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