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Documentary Wedding Photography

Reportage/Documentary Wedding Photography

As a Toronto based wedding photographer working in the documentary tradition, here is a little of my philosophy about reportage or photojournalist (candid) style photography that serves as a basis of how I approach weddings. Our candid wedding photography, according to the people who recommend us (such as high end bridal shops), we are among the top photographers in Toronto working in this tradition.

The Documentary Tradition

The term documentary photography came into wide use during the depression years, when telling pictures of poverty-stricken farmers awakened Americans to the need for social reform. (See Elizabeth McCausland.)

Life, the magazine that later did much to promote the genre, defined documentary photography as a depiction of the real world by a photographer whose intent is to communicate something of importance - to make a comment - that will be understood by the viewer.

In North America, the documentary tradition really began with Jacob Riis' work on city slums and Lewis Hine's expose of child labor abuses. They demonstrated that still photography could be an effective weapon in rallying the conscience of society.

And indeed, during the 30s, documentary photography emerged as a pervasive voice for social change. Photographers such as Dorothea Lange, W. Eugene Smith, André Kertész and Walker Evans roamed the world and explored their own backyards to delve into the human condition - the despair and the suffering as well as the dignity, strength and transcendent hope that was captured in the best of their work.


Blind Beggar by Jacob Riis c. 1890

Today, that tradition lives on.

Some of the most moving images seen on television in recent years are not the video footage that constantly streams across the screen, but the still photographs - the photo essays - documenting everyday life in places like war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan.

Magazines and newspapers still occasionally present photo essays on important social topics. And there are several publications devoted to documentary photography. However, due to tighter editorial budgets, lengthy photo assignments so often needed to develop in-depth work are becoming increasingly rare. It is this shortfall that the Centre helps to alleviate.



High Points in History

To briefly summarize all that documentary photography has contributed to society is difficult, if not impossible. André Kertész, Paul Strand, Henri Cartier-Bresson and the many photographers that followed them brought new views of the world into the homes and offices of ordinary citizens. We can only estimate how public perceptions changed as a direct result.

In terms of social impact, certainly one high point for documentary photographers was the depression of the 30s. In the United States, as many as 15 million were unemployed, and many were homeless and hungry. The U.S. government sought to provide assistance to these needy - a measure which was widely unpopular at the time.

Government agencies, most notably the Farm Security Agency, hired a small band of photographers to make the plight of farmers and others in distress better understood by the American population. The work produced by these photographers (a monumental collection of 270,000 photographs by such greats as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Jack Delano, Ann Rosener, Ben Shahn and Russell Lee) still stands as one of history's outstanding photographic achievements. And largely due to this effort, American citizens got behind the government's efforts to aid the needy.

Such is the power of an image - and the truth that it captures - to move and change perceptions. That power is as vital today as it has ever been.



In her notes on this series of photos, Dorothea Lange wrote: "Migrant agricultural worker's family. Seven hungry children. Mother aged thirty-two. Father is a native Californian. Destitute in pea picker's camp, Nipomo, California, because of the failure of the early pea crop. These people had just sold their tent in order to buy food. Of the twenty-five hundred people in this camp most of them were destitute." (U.S. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection)


Articles and Information on Documentary Photography

Interesting Essay with even more interesting correspondence renowned photoeditor, John G. Morris. (“ What’s documentary about photography?: From directed to digital photojournalism ” by John Mraz)

Redefining Documentary Photography By Pedro Meyer

And the Pulitzer Goes To By David A. Cantor (foto8)

Close Enough: Photographs by David Seymour - Essay review by Terry Gips

Henri Cartier-Bresson: From a higher reality to a respect for reality

Documentary Photography and the Great Depression

Photographer's Rights Flyer The Photographer's Right is a downloadable guide that is loosely based on the ACLU's Bust Card and the Know Your Rights flyer.

National Geographic Photographers Bios - good summaries on these great photographers.

On Being a Photographer - an excerpt from the book by David Hurn / Magnum and Bill Jay. Highly recommended!

The Photographer as Auteur: Respecting Authorship - by Mike Johnston

“ What’s documentary about photography?: From directed to digital photojournalism ”by John Mraz