Elizabeth McCausland

Notes on Elizabeth McCausland “Documentary Photography”

  • Documentary is not a fad or fashion
  • The term ‘documentary’ may be new (or was at the time) but the basis for it has existed since the very early days of photography
  • Photographers such as Atget, Cameron and Hill did not intend their work as ‘art’ in itself but as means to an end
  • She describes a new objective realism, a break from romanticism or photography for pure aesthetic concerns
  • Independence of photographers’ intentions is necessary because of censorship in cinema and magazines
  • Government initiatives provide the best means of independent documentary photography
  • Documentary requires objectivity; the photographer’s own personality must not intrude on truth

Her article describes a purist approach to documentary that was prevalent at the time, similar to André Bazin’s view. This stance is much less relevant now in the realization that pure objectivity is itself a subjective position. Although a photographer may have noble intentions of recording ‘the truth’, it is not possible to remain entirely neutral – he/she must always adopt a position of some sort.

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