Constructing the Real: Staged Photography and the Documentary Tradition

Green, David (2009) Constructing the Real: Staged Photography and the Documentary Tradition In: Theatres of the Real. Photoworks/Fotomuseum Provincie Antwerpen, Brighton/Antwerp, pp. 103-110. ISBN 9781903796269

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The various senses of ‘theatricality’ as being artificial, affected and, ultimately, deceptive or false, seem to stand in direct contrast to photography’s claim to the values of realism and truth. Yet the act of staging people, objects and events for the camera has been an integral part of photography from its inception. This essay looks at the recent re-emergence of the use of strategies of the staged photograph within the domain of documentary practices. With reference to John Grierson’s promotion of documentary as ‘the creative treatment of actuality’, and Jeff Wall’s analysis of photo-conceptualism’s reworking of ‘art-photography-as-reportage’, it is argued that the repositioning of documentary photography into the domain of art has brought with it a new set of possibilities for new kinds of documentary practices specific to the gallery. In this context, the staged photograph, deemed illegitimate or inappropriate within the traditional confines of documentary, nonetheless offers itself as a suitable vehicle for documentary’s claims to address the world in which we live and to act as a prelude to forms of social agency.

Item Type:Chapter in book
Additional Information:The book, in which this essay appears, was published on the occasion of the exhibition 'Theatres of the Real' held at the Fotomuseum Antwerp, June-September 2009, and curated by David Green and Joanna Lowry. The exhibition presented recent work by eight photographers working in the UK who can be seen as extending and redefining a tradition of British documentary photography. Whilst the work of these artists clearly belongs to that tradition by engaging with a range of social issues or by simply recording aspects of our contemporary world, it does not necessarily conform to the conventional methods and style of documentary photography. Many of the works in the exhibition involved situations that have been staged for the camera: sets have been constructed, actors have been dressed in costumes, and narrative scenarios invented. Other works, however, conformed to the conventions of ‘straight’ photography: recording pre-existing scenes without any kind of direct intervention by the photographer. However, what united all of these photographs was a sense of theatricality. Ranging from melodramatic reconstructions to the small tales of everyday domestic life, the images in the exhibition – in their different ways – portrayed our contemporary world as a kind of stage set in which we as actors play out our individual and collective stories. The participating artists were: Sarah Dobai, Annabel Elgar, Tom Hunter. Sarah Pickering, Nigel Shafran, Clare Strand, Mitra Tabrizian and Danny Treacy.
Uncontrolled Keywords:photography,documentary,staged photography
Subjects:W000 Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
W000 Creative Arts and Design > W600 Photography and Film
W000 Creative Arts and Design > W600 Photography and Film > W640 Photography
Faculties:Faculty of Arts > School of Humanities
Faculty of Arts
Faculty of Arts > School of Arts and Media
ID Code:6506
Deposited By:David Green
Deposited On:12 Apr 2010
Last Modified:18 Jun 2010 12:40

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