The Documentary Impulse – Stuart Franklin

More lubricant for the rusty brain cells, this time in the form of ‘The Documentary Impulse‘ (Franklin, 2016). In fact, I am already half way through reading it for a second time.


The book is by the renowned photographer Stuart Franklin, who was responsible for the famous image of a lone man in Tiananmen Square stopping a line of tanks. In it he discusses and attempts to explain what has driven the human race to record events since man lived in caves to the present day.

The book cover covers the driving need or impulse to document life from cave paintings to everyday life. How photography full of bias and sentimentality tried to capture a lost Eden rooted in Colonial outposts or concord nations. The use of documentary photography to highlight inadequate or substandard care of the mentally ill or those in prison as a force to drive change or reform. The use of image-choc (shocking pictures) to influence or prick public and political conscience is discussed, along with the arguable concept of ‘Compassion Fatigue’.

Though I found the discussions regarding the way documentary photography has influenced and driven change most interesting. From social reform of the poor and child labour to driving political change in the cases of war such as the Nigerian-Biafran war and the Vietnam war.

The book also discusses staged documentary shoots and manipulation of documentary photography.

As I have already said I am halfway through reading it for the 2nd time as I really want to understand what Stuart Franklin is saying. If you are interested in documentary photography or just want to ready a good book about photography I do not think you will be disappointed, this is a well written, well presented and interesting read.


Franklin, S. (2016) The documentary impulse. United Kingdom: Phaidon Press.

The Photograph as Contemporary Art – Charlotte Cotton

I have been doing a lot of thinking of late. Getting myself wound up in a knot over the exercises in Part 1. I guess I am trying to read too much into what is required. This feels like trying to start an old car; the key is in the ignition and the engine is making some sort of a sound, but it is not firing up and starting as it should and therefore isn’t moving. Depressing eh, and I guess I am far from alone in this regard. So I am trying to lubricate the mental machinery by reading.


Along with the course materials I received a book ‘The Photograph as Contemporary Art’ (Cotton, 2014), so I started with that.

The book is broken down into 8 chapters each covering different ways and genres that photographers/artists have utilised the photograph as contemporary art. These are:




Chapter 1: If This Is Art – This chapter concerns itself with the photographic image being the desired outcome of the artists’ idea/s. Images look for all intents and purposes as unplanned happenstance or serendipitous, where in fact there are all carefully planned, crafted and executed.

Chapter 2: Once Upon a Time – This chapter discusses the use of storytelling by the use of contemporary art photography. The essence of creating a single image that tells a story by the careful crafting of a visual narrative.

Chapter 3: Deadpan – This chapter covers a range of photographers who utilise a Deadpan aesthetic in their works. The photographer takes the image with a cool detached and unemotional intent. A favoured documentary style that allows the viewer to engage with the image and form their own conclusions.

Chapter 4: Something and Nothing – This chapter is about how artists have created contemporary photographic art using non-human artefacts. Everyday objects, mundane items and the obscure are posed, positioned and staged into something artful.

Chapter 5: Intimate Life – A chapter devoted to how stories of intimate and personal nature are brought to life as contemporary photographic art. Narratives are portrayed in powerful, shocking and sometimes tender ways that are charged with emotional intent.

Chapter 6: Moments in History – This chapter considers how contemporary art photographers present images that bear witness to significant, momentous or infamous events. Many of these images cover war, conflict, distress and disaster, but can equally concern themselves with personal or domestic history.

Chapter 7: Revived and Remade – This chapter introduces a postmodernist stance towards the creation of contemporary photographic art. The postmodernist approach full of signs and symbolism is utilised in creative and manipulative ways to present a fantasy or homage.

Chapter 8: Physical and Material – The final chapter presents artists who utilise all forms of photography, medium, materials and methods of presentation in their contemporary art. They celebrate the rich diverse past of photography mending it with current methodologies to create something unique.

This book was an interesting and eye-opening read. It was complimented by 244 predominantly colour pictures. The chapters I felt most interested in and drawn towards were; ‘Once Upon a Time’, ‘Deadpan’ and ‘Moments in History’ as I like documentary photography and could see how might employ these styles in my own photography. I also liked the created fantasy of the ‘Revived and Remade’ chapter. I think the hardest chapter for me to grasp was ‘Intimate Life’. I found difficultly in engaging with or relating to the presented imagery. I will endeavour to reread this chapter and try and fathom out why.



Cotton, C. (2014) The photograph as contemporary art. 03rd edn. London, United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson.