Documentary Photography Essay

1345 words - 6 pages

‘Documentary Photography’

In the article Between Objectivity and Subjectivity: Understanding Photography written by Pieter Swanepoel, Swanepoel states that the Photographer has been seen rather as a “lowly button pressor” than an artist (Swanepoel, 2005: 204). Swanepoel in this statement suggests that the photographer is just an opperator of the mechanics of a camera and not important to the meaning and outcome of the photograph, however many photographers manipulated their images through technical means when capturing the photograph as well as developing it. Looking at two of the works by South African photographer Santu Mofokeng, Easter Sunday Church Service (1996)(Figure1) and Eyes ...view middle of the document...

Mofokeng states “If I bring in light I create, it’s not documentary,” (Campbell, 2009: 55), this statement correlates strongly with Swanepoels opinion that “The documentary photographer’s aim is ideally to remain impartial.” (Swanepoel, 2005: 205). In these two personal definitions by Mofokeng and Swanepoel, of documentary photography, we get the understanding that documentary photography is created by “lowly button pressors”, however this would exclude almost all contempory documentary photographs as alterations and manipulations are made continuously and professionally accepted in this day and age(Campbell, 2009: 55). Photographs are lense based images in either digital or chemical formats (Campbell, 2009: 53), many of Mafokeng’s photographs are taken on analog cameras and needed to be developed in a darkroom using chemicals, however due to him being a junior staff member at Afrapix at the time, the chemicals he got to use were usually old and used a few times before (Campbell, 2009: 54), however this seemed to add to the artistic style of his photographs.

Santu Mofokeng’s Easter Sunday Church Service (Figure 1) was taken in 1996 in the Free State. The photograph’s subject matter is of a group of women, mainly dressed in white. Although there are the few women not dressed in white in the foreground, they are not in focus which puts more emphasis on the women in white in focus in the background, using depth of field and this contrast creates a sense of unity. The smoke diagonally in the top right corner of the photograph gives the photograp a mysterious feeling and gives the viewer a sense that there is a veil over the photograph, occluding something we may not see. This photograph reiterates the everyday photographs that Mofokeng likes to capture, a crowd of women at a church service on Easter Sunday. Although it is documenting the service, Mofokeng took into account the smoke and the angle at which he took the photograph as well as the directin and the subject matter, Mofokend did not take the photograph of what all the women seem to be looking at or where is smoke is coming from, but rather of the women themselves making it less “news worthy” but this shows that thought went into capturing this image.

Similarly with Eyes Wide Shut(2004) (Figure 2) thought has been put into the capturing of this photograph. This particular photograph was taken of Mofokeng’s brother Ishmael whome had recently contracted AIDS and was found to have only a few months to live (Haynes, 2009: 47). Mofokeng tires to emphasise the threat of diseases through comparing them to apartheid. “If apartheid was a scourge, the new threat is virus, invisible perils both.” (Haynes, 2009: 48). Mofokeng demonstates this in Figure 2 by focusing on Ishmael and having the contrast between him and the unfocused and blurred movement in the background. The subject matter is looking straight into the lense which gives the viewer a sense of confrontation, the purpose and...

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