Michelle Sank is a documentary photographer whose portraiture records the uniqueness of what it means to be human. Originally from South Africa she now lives and works in the UK.
The groups she photographs all have something in common , they form a community , a group of people who individually may seem disparate but have a common bond that unites them. I feel this makes her work very relevant when considering how to approach the criteria set for the 1st assignment.
Her work really interests me as I hope to combine my love of portraiture with the documentary assignments for this course . Her subjects range from children under 18 , in the series Young Carers , who provide the principle care for an ill family member to Wondrous , which celebrates the beauty of elderly women. She photographs her subjects in colour at a location , not against a blank background , in private and public spaces.
These portraits were shot away from the carers’ home .The interesting thing about these images is that without the accompanying text it is difficult to consider the context and what , apart from age, connects them.
“With these portraits, I wanted to empower these young people with a sense of their own identity and normality. I wanted to remove them from their home environment and place them within ‘light’ and outside spaces. By getting them to dress in something they chose and to be themselves, I think for that moment in time they felt special, grounded and free.” Michelle Sank .
The images are excellent and a just celebration of womanliness in older women but I feel quite uneasy looking at them . I am unsure why but wonder if it is because of the way subjects are posed and dressed , Sank comments she is “interested in the vulnerability of my subjects ‘
and I think this comes across in the studies she has made of the women. I wonder if she suggested the pose or if the women chose how they were portrayed?
Technological changes have created the means to generate a huge on-line presence.
A quick Google search indicates that as many as 75% of the world population own a mobile phone, can some of the resulting images captured by these phones and uploaded to social media sites be classed as documentary? Are they and should they be considered valid documents? Digital media has transformed the definition of documentary photography. Viewing on-line is a different experience to looking at a physical print and can reach a much wider audience.
Professional photojournalist Benjamin Lowy initially began to use an iPhone as “an artistic outlet” , to be free from the constraints of the daily workflow involved with his work. His “outlet” developed into a more serious use of his phone to record conflict in war zones.
However along with the growth of the internet and social media sites comes daily bombardment of millions of images . Lowy embraced new technology creating original images that are distinctive and far from mediocre: an important asset to help them stand out amongst the masses. I like the richly saturated images and find them extremely eye-catching even though the subject matter is serious, they demand attention.
Lowy believes the ready availability of imagery on these sites can be used as a “showcase” for good photography and reach a large audience. However he also believes it has led to a decline of quality in an attempt to gain the most followers which I agree is a valid point.
Lowy has decided the time has now come to slow down and take less images. I look forward to seeing how he proceeds.
Listen to Miranda Gavin talking about documentary photography.
Write a 200 word reflective commentary setting out your reactions to Gavin’s viewpoint.
Issues raised in the video.
1. How technological change has allowed new approaches to documentary photography.
2. The growth of women photographers
3. The merging of categories which are no longer “set in stone”
Documentary photography is becoming harder than ever to categorize, something Gavin acknowledges in the video. As a genre its boundaries now frequently merge and cross over. With the growth of technology, the internet, and social media sites, images can be viewed not only in print but almost instantaneously as events unfurl online.It is commonly understood as providing factual evidence and recording the truth.
The aim of documentary photography is to inform , to show something. How individual photographers choose to record, and document events will invariably influence how the image is perceived. Hence documentary photography can also be subjective which seems almost a contradiction in terms, as a genre the subject matter seems limitless .
Gavin credits the advance of digital technology, and it’s greater accessibility, with the growth of women photographers. This in turn has lead to the development of new issues being addressed and she suggests the characterisation of documentary needs to be re-considered. However social change also needs to be taken into consideration:people have greater personal and financial freedom than ever before allowing them the means to take advantage of new technology and record new topics.
The April edition of the British Journal of Photography was dedicated solely to women photographers. Interestingly the Deputy Editor , Diane Smyth , commented “ how male dominated photography is……..Magnum currently has eight women out of 85 members , of whom only four are living” pg. 4 Volume 161 Issue No 7823.
If there is a growth in female photographers they seem to receive less recognition than their male counterparts on a professional level.
What is documentary photography?
It is commonly understood as providing factual evidence and recording the truth , the aim of any documentary photographer is to inform , to show something. Hence as a genre the subject matter seems almost limitless and this is what makes it such an exiting subject to study.
However I am rather apprehensive about the coursework , I much prefer to work with people I know and do not enjoy taking surreptitious photographs of strangers in the street. I hope I can combine my love of portraiture with the assignments.
My research for the first project is to look at some contemporary practitioners of documentary photography to try and gain an idea of the diversity within the genre .