Documentary Dilemmas

I have not been able to access Brett Rogers’ introduction to ‘Documentary Dilemmas’, and searching online has proved fruitless. The publication itself exits physically in the UCA library but no online copy seems to be available anywhere. Many of the works are still available view, either through the British Council or through other sites for individual photographers.

Susan Bright says that many of these photographers became linked by a collective label ‘New Documentarists’. Their work, although quite different from each other, often blurs traditional boundaries between documentary, landscape and reportage. Some, such as Chris Killip and Paul Graham, looked for new ways to produce socially concerned images while avoiding an overtly dogmatic approach to problems and solutions. Others, such as Anna fox, looked for new ways of categorising and visualising those categories. A characteristic common to all might be that individual images often seem to be about nothing; it is the overall categorisation that assigns meaning.

Anna Fox has frequently used her own life and circumstances as a theme. Some apply humour, such as “Work Stations” or “41, Hewitt Road”, but others such as “My mother’s cupboards and my father’s words” apply a strong sense of sadness over the illness affecting her father without directly depicting him or his illness.

Paul Graham’s “Beyond Caring” has a lot of commonality with Anna Fox’s “Work Stations” in that both are concerned with how work – or the lack of it – reflects British society in the late 20th century. “Beyond Caring” depicts the dehumanising and dispiriting effects of unemployment, and “Work Stations” looks at the way people react to work places and also humanise them as well. Both use a neutral colour tone to provide a realistic view of their respective worlds. For later works such as “A Shimmer of Possibility” and “American Night” he adopts a more sideways approach that perfectly demonstrates the idea that it is the overall set that provides the meaning rather than individual images.

Paul Reas’ colour work often satirizes the way British life and the way it has been forced to exist in particular ways. At times his work, like that of Martin Parr, has been criticised for adopting a sneering tone towards his subjects. His view – one I agree with totally – is that he is just showing reality and that the people he depicts have quite willingly shown themselves in this manner. Any criticism in his work is directed towards the external influences that drive his subjects.

References

Bright, S. (2011) Art Photography Now. (2nd ed. edition) (s.l.): Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Anna Fox

“Work Stations” at http://www.britishphotography.org/artists/15795/e/1170/anna-fox-anna-fox-work-stations-1987-88?p=3&type=list

“41, Hewitt Road” at http://www.britishphotography.org/artists/15795/e/1740/anna-fox-anna-fox-41-hewitt-road-1996-99

“My mother’s cupboards and my father’s words” at http://www.britishphotography.org/artists/15795/e/1916/anna-fox-anna-fox-my-mothers-cupboards-and-my-fathers-words-1999

Paul Graham

“Beyond Caring” at http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/beyondcaring.html

“A Shimmer of Possibility” at http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/possibility.html

“American Night” at http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/americannight.html

Paul Reas

“I Can Help” and “Flogging a Dead Horse” at http://www.britishphotography.org/artists/17200/paul-reas

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