Towards A New Documentary Expression – Stephen Mayes

In the workshop with Shaun Hides, I idenfied that for my research paper I could use the opposition between Stephen Mayes and Fred Ritchin created in the interview for Phonar as a suitable framework. I was already familiar with Fred Ritchin’s writing however I hadn’t read anything from Stephen Mayes so I set myself the task of reading material from Stephen Mayes. My notes and evaluation can be seen below:

  • John Stanmeyer: “we’ve got to stop thinking of ourselves as photographers. We’re publishers” – the smartphone is more than just another camera, it redefines the role of the image-maker
  • What is valuable about photography now? (new audiences/new interests)
  • Opportunity to challenge conventional photography and storytelling and create new models
  • This evolution references ancient storytelling (photos as metaphors)
  • 20th century conventions are dissolving
  • Photographers aren’t constrained anymore, being published allows them to choose their themes, audiences, distribution and means for expression
  • Documentary photography has been questioned, expanded and revised
  • Bill Eppridge: photo essay “Panic in Needle Park” used a sequential format
  • Straight narratives are beginning to ‘age out’ in society and media
  • Online imagery is less presenting objects of memory and more about sharing experience
  • Endlessly streaming experience reflects the messy experience of life
  • Snapchat is the latest phenomenon ‘vernacular is the vanguard’
  • Documentary practitioners are already experimenting
  • Chris De Bode – Bangladeshi migrant workers freeling Libya in 2011 (innovative print context)
  • Peter DiCampo and Austin Merril – Everyday Africa, “rolling evolution of multi perspective narrative” (Instagram and Tumblr – photography as a conversational tool)
  • Shift from linear to dynamic stories isn’t the only change
  • Documentary has been a vehicle of factual information, this is up for review as audiences shift (social media, traditional media, games consoles, galleries)
  • Images are read less literally
  • Factual credibility is under suspicion because of concerns over manipulation and falsification
  • Less discussed is the significance of context as context defines meaning
  • Smartphone aesthetic is casually intimate – Ron Haviv and Michael Christopher Brown made work in Libya with their mobile phone 2011
  • Photography can be seen as a visual metaphor
  • Transformative storytelling is important

Evaluation:

Stephen Mayes is my key authority on the smartphone as a tool in photojournalism and the influence of the mass image culture on the practice of photography. This piece of writing reinforces that view and gives me plenty of points to raise in each discussion. I find Mayes’ comparison to the fragmented nature of experiential photography to the ‘messy experience of life’ extremely interesting because it perhaps explains why image-based social media has become increasingly popular. The quote from John Stanmeyer is very relevant in association with the mass image culture that is growing due to the mass engagement with social media; it is also relevant to the professional practice of photojournalism as the professional photographer can have more control over the content that they produce. Perhaps the role of the photo-editor is declining because the photojournalist can be responsible and have control over the publishing of their own work; this would decrease the likelihood of an image being interpreted the wrong way when the sense of purpose and control gets lost through translation between the photographer and the photo-editor. This responsibility and control is a concept I will be addressing in my research paper in relation to all aspects of the photographic process from ensuring an accurate representation to deciding the appropriate environment for the final visual outcome. I will definitely be incorporating Mayes’ ideology in association with the publishing of content, in particular the content from the citizens who are participating in the experiential medium Stephen Mayes describes. In this paper Mayes characterises the content from social media as an ‘endless streaming experience’, in his interview with Fred Ritchin he described it as rolling and continuous; it is this flowing dynamic that I wish to address in my research paper and compare it to the fluid nature of the digital image as addressed by Joan Fontcuberta. If photojournalists can take the image further than the analogue format it is currently trapped in, they can fully take advantage of the continuous informational stream available to them.

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