Why I am a Documentary Artist

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 10.59.02Since I first took up a camera, over 30 years ago, photography has evolved, throwing new questions forward for all of us to digest. The theory of photography has become central to writings which influence contemporary art. Documentation, of art works, became works in themselves and the use of found imagery shifted the aesthetic of the medium challenging the traditional values of the print. But this progress of the medium towards a central place in many artists practice has often bypassed photography’s abilities to be used as an agent for change. This quality demands a commitment to a political ideology as well as a referential system of aesthetics and is often misunderstood.

My influences in photography seem to have receded in time as I have sought to find new ways to communicate. I feel closer to the photographers of the 1860s than to my own generation of artists. With simple means, Thomas Annan (1829- 1887) photographed the narrow alleyways in Glasgow and showed how the working class majority lived. His photography stands out because of its rarity. It is the majority, made powerless by our economic inequalities, that are missing, from historical documentation and from today’s media. That is with the exception of the sensationalised coverage of extreme circumstances.

thomas-annan-copyThe lives of the poor do not represent an economic or technological ‘progress’ and so their lives are characterised as mundane, of little interest. Because the idea of ‘progress’ is essential to justify the actions of those in power, I blur the distinction between the present and the past in my photographs. This is done to remind people that the present contains the past and that the infallible programme of history-as-progress, which we consider universal, is challengeable, and is, in fact, an illusion.

The reason photography can be useful is that, in a very simplistic way, it seems to state that, ‘all suffering is unnecessary’. It suggests that what, on the surface appears as incorrect, is fundamentally, or morally, wrong. The photograph transcend the social, historical, and political causes of events. But without an understanding of the issues behind the image, there can be no positive progress for the image or the people represented. That is why images need supporting information. My photographs are titled, often with texts which are used to leverage the moment into a continuous present purpose, to direct the viewer beyond the image-as-a-full-stop.

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