Document, Personal Document, or…

Minor epiphany of the day:

One of the more interesting ideas I came across in Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and 70s was the shift from the sort of photography which produced public documents — in the standard photojournalistic/street photography sense — to a sort of photography which was concerned with producing personal documents.

Straight documentary photography is about creating photographs of things in the world (people, places, moments, situations) to act as records of those things. Typically the motivation of this style of photography is based around the public interest — advocacy, journalism, etc.

The personal documentary style is about creating photographs of things in the world to act as records not of those things but of the photographer himself or herself — people and places function as records of feelings or ideas or experiences. This is basically an extension of Stieglitz’s notion of the photograph as “equivalent,” except that in this case, it is usually other people rather than clouds that are the proxy for the photographer’s inner landscape.

I don’t really feel a strong connection to either of these approaches to street photography. On the one hand, my interest in photography is fundamentally quite selfish. I’m not taking pictures of things to fuel a social revolution or record the truth of some moment in history.

But, on the other hand, I’m not really interested in using photography as a tool for introspection. I don’t entirely understand people who view the camera principally as a device to allow them to crawl deeper into their own brains. The greatest value of the camera, as far as I am concerned, is that it is capable of quite the opposite function — it allows me to pull myself partway out of my head and out into — or at least toward — the world…

I’m not entirely sure where that places me relative to either straight documentary or personal documentary photography…maybe it’s sort of the inverse of the personal document — I am interested in photographs of things which act not as records or representations of parts of myself, but as antidotes or…connections. Would the result be something like a wax impression of myself, or even a photonegative?

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