On becoming a Documentary photographer

How do you develop as a documentary photographer.

Why would anyone want to become a documentary photographer, as the industry that supports the work of documentary photographers is collapsing around you? Are there ways to make documentary photography pay, enough money so you can keep doing it? Newspapers and magazines the traditional markets for documentary photography are not paying what they used to, for good documentary photography, as they are in markets that are in turmoil. This is leaving documentary photographers to look else were for financial support, to arts grants and places like Kickstarter to raise the money to do long form documentary photography. David Campbell has a list of grants on his website. We also have to realise that making documentary images has never been a good money earner for a documentary photographer as most often the photographer is concerned with some social issue that the elites would rather not see publicised or highlighted in any media outlets. This is the fundamental problem for documentary photographers it is one of visibility vis-a-vie the desire of the oppressor/inequality enabler to suppress the information that the documentary photographer is seeking to make visible to a wide audience.

Where do you learn the tools that will enable you to become a documentary photographer. Could you go on a course to learn this sort of thing or do you become socialised into becoming a documentary photographer by reading books and learning though doing. I have no real answer to this as I think there are many routes into being a documentary photographer, I completed a MA in photography and urban cultures which gave me time to study sociology and societies with my particular interest in reading books on neoliberal economic theory and society by people like Zygmunt Bauman, David HarveyMike Davis, Pierre Bourdieu etc letting me learn about how societies function from a sociological perspective and about visual culture and its effect of society. But the course did not teach me how to actually do documentary photography that has been a process of self learning exploring my own work since the course ended in 2008. For 5 years I feel that I have been practicing and developing now I am ready to make the work that I want to exploring economic and social issues within society.

How each of us develop as a documentary photographer will be personal and invariably related to how you see society, what injustices you see being perpetrated around you and what you think needs changing about the society that you live in. Or it could be, a feeling that the type of society that you want to live life in does not seem to exist and you want to help in your own way, create the space that will help our current society move towards, the one that you think we should be living in.

If you decide to become a documentary photographer, you will need to find a way to support your photography practice, while you make the images that you want to illustrating the storey that you want to tell. Then you will have something to show that becomes the beginning point in the process of communicating the ideas that you are trying to tell others about the societies that we all live within. This part takes a whole new set of skills that involve promotion and pr skills to get your story out so others see it. For this I sometimes wonder if a marketing course would not be more appropriate for the beginning documentary photographer one that lets you develop media tools suitable for promoting self and the work that you are producing.


David Campbell has a list of grant supporting photographers


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