Blog #123 Social Documentary
What is social documentary in photography? Is it a thing? I mean isn’t it just high brow speak for street photography? Is it another name for photojournalism, photo projects, or is it something else? Wikipedia offers a definition here.
Photojournalism has been around for ages. In my research on this topic out of sheer interest in being able to articulate the difference between it and social documentary I learned that latter is essentially telling stories through pictures about some social condition. The social condition tends to be exposé in nature such as city gangs, poverty, sex workers, refugees or some unjust or social imbalance.
Photojournalism, in contrast, is meant to be a sort of neutral reportage about the way things are, the facts. It seems appropriate to reference French in the definition of each of these genre (another French term) since photography was invented by our friends across the pond after all. Of course the aim of the journalist and photojournalist is also to tell stories using one or more pictures. If there can be any discernible difference it might be found in the publications in which these [slightly] different genres find themselves in terms of bias, political stance, or poetic freedom, so to speak.
Regardless of the academic differences that might exist between these two approaches to photography or genre if they can, in fact, be considered as such, these days we have social media. Need I say more? [that was rhetorical - obviously I need to say more since I’m writing a blog here, but I digress]. Instagram allows anyone and everyone to become their own journalist, photographer, editor, publisher, and ultimately source of news. This is a good thing? Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell. Certainly there are pros and cons. I tend to favour the pros.
Social media platforms and instagram in particular are changing the landscape in which photographers practice their craft and share their work.
The old idiom, A picture is worth a thousand words comes to mind.
Photography in general, and photojournalism ever more so, is a tough and cutthroat business. Enter the collective. Collectives stray from the photographer-as-artistic-genius and master model in favour of a strength in numbers approach.
After some contemplation over the subject, my take-away is the following. As photographers, we find parts of the world that are interesting or even fascinating to us and so we dive in with camera in one hand [and usually a latte or beer in the other]. We explore every millimetre of that subject until nothing is left, then we share our exploits with the known world.
What we chose to say about the subject is up to us and how we portray that subject is ultimately up to us (or our editors on occasion for publication). At any rate, it’s the thirst for the story that drives us down that creative highway. Whatever that thing is and regardless of what you want to say about it, go get it since it will not come to you.
A few days ago, Typhoon Mangkhut (mangosteen fruit) slammed into Hong Kong and tore the city a new one. 1500+ trees went down, mass transit ground to a halt and the damage to property and buildings not to mention the boating community was massive. On the day of the storm it was Sunday 16 September, and I ventured outside my flat but not to far. The next day, after the storm, I road my motorbike around town to the office to check the damage, camera strapped around my neck and shot two rolls of my last Rollei CR200 slide film that expired one month ago. This stuff is terrific, however, it’s been discontinued and I was saving it for a special occasion. Mangkhut, the strongest typhoon of the year and worst in Hong Kong's 70 year history of documenting storms seemed like the perfect match.
The storm and its aftermath provided the catalyst for me to run outside and document the hell out of this mess. Sometimes its just that simple. The world does what the world does, and we respond. What does your world say to you? Will you be ready to answer its call?
The light is always right.
*Images: © Jeremy H. Greenberg
Where: Hong Kong
Subject: Typhoon Mangkhut Destruction
Gear: Nikon F100 + Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4 AF + Rollei 35mm CR 200