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  • Jon Longworth

My Focus on Documentary Photography

Like I said in the previous blog post, I would explore my main area of focus in photography, which is documentary photography.

This is something that I have been doing, in a sense, for several years now. Ironically I started out in it by doing the very thing I criticize now, which is creating my own contexts and narrative for people or domestic spaces. I had a rather intense passion for writing when I was younger, which seemed to have manifested in my earlier pieces.

I think like many photography students, or just university students in general for that fact, you become exposed to many more cultures and in turn, become more aware of the issues that face our society as a whole. I think that the only difference is that if you focus your efforts in documentary photography, your focusing your efforts on documenting these types of things.

Like many people, during this time, I became much more left leaning than I originally had, 'radicalized' if you will, and it results in an altered perception of things you previously thought you understood. To photograph people, and to discuss people, there needs to a certain level of abstinence. If you're going to document cultural and political events, you need to understand that your role as a photographer is to be completely neutral. If you begin to photograph a right wing event and then say "well I support the left, so this whole event was actually stupid", then you're not taking photographs of a right wing event, you're merely satirising an event for your own gain. If an event satirises itself, and if the people make themselves appear as idiots, then fair game. But personally, I don't think its within a documentary photographer to decide, based off their own opinions, what is and isn't truth. Because that feels like it treads more along the lines of propaganda in a sense.


This realisation of how I interpreted photography ultimately changed how I created my projects within this genre of it. I realised there was a region I could photograph without it slipping into all those political rabbit holes and that is observation of my family. Which sounds like the cheap route out, but I promise it's not. The brilliant thing about photographing your own personal lives is that its a situation that whilst it may have common experiences that lots of families encounter, the perception of that experience is entirely unique to you. So with that, you're able to document it in whichever way you see fit. Documentary photography is a way of documenting life, but it is also a canvas to documenting how we live that life and the experiences that come from that way of living.

My one problem with photographing my own family is that I often use the worse moments as a template for my work, which makes me an opportunist in this regard. Whilst I see it as photographing moments of extreme change within these confines, it is still a case of waiting for those things to happen. It is also a case to make that whilst I don't necessarily want these things to happen, I am also aware that sooner or later they will, and then for me to understand these situations, I will feel the need to shoot them.


When it comes to documentation, I also use buildings as a talking point. Like previously stated, architecture itself, whilst born from cultural and political events, is still a very neutral object. Like I stated in the previous photograph, "I don't necessarily want these things to happen, I am also aware that sooner or later they will", I personally believe that there is not much to be spoken about the past of buildings. They exist in the here and now, so I see it as something to discuss on what these buildings were like. But because they have the neutrality, there becomes the ability to project onto them. So for example in my current project, I am photographing the change in Huddersfield's town centre and its eventual demolition to make way for a wave of post modernism. The project to me, is a way of absorbing how these buildings are at the present time and acknowledging the inevitability of change. Whilst there are criticisms to be made of the past, its not the sole focus, merely an observation of what has happened and using that past information and data to merely inform on what will happen.


Maybe this has rambled on a bit, but this is me essentially stating my stance in the genre. I don't want to use documentary as a way of commenting on social groups, nor do I want to try sway someone from left to right or vice versa. I just want to use it as a way of documenting change wherever I see it, whether it be personal change or change in our environment.

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