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June 17, 2017
What is Documentary Photography?

Documentary photography is a form of photography that is specifically used to chronicle events or environments both significant and relevant to history and historical events as well as everyday life.

 

Today, there are a couple of popular photography styles- portrait and lifestyle. Portrait photography often takes place in a studio and is heavily styled with matching outfits, perfectly done hair and makeup, and a variety of pre-planned scenes or poses. Lifestyle photography is usually done outside of a photography studio, often in a picturesque outdoor scene or a well groomed home. However, lifestyle photography still incorporates a lot of posing within the session, but with an attempt to make it more warm and life-like, versus studio photography.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we find documentary photography, a close cousin to photo-journalism, and the type of photography that I do. Documentary photography occurs wherever there is a story to be told, and folks, that’s literally everywhere.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY DEALS SOLELY IN TELLING STORIES AND PRESERVING MEMORIES THAT WILL BE A PART OF OUR HISTORY.

Since the goal of documentary photography is storytelling and not capturing picture-perfect scenes, the standard for a documentary photographer is to not interfere with the moment that is being documented. This means no posing.

Now, I understand that the idea of not being posed or told what to do by a photographer within a session may seem scary, but I assure you that it’s actually incredibly easy.

You see, early in my photographic work, I was a portrait photographer, but it was awkward and unnatural for me. I finally came to realize that portrait and lifestyle photography only skimmed the surface of what I wanted to achieve, that the images only told what people looked like at that moment in time. The images that I created weren’t able to go any deeper into who they were or their story, and it was greatly unfulfilling for me.

I realized that I was born a storyteller, a documentary photographer.

With that realization came a most wonderful blessing/curse- I see stories and moments that deserve to be documented every single place that I go. I have often said that I wish that my eyes could take photographs, because my camera couldn’t contain all of the images that I see that are full of joy and that I cherish. This naturally lead me to the belief that our everyday moments- no matter how chaotic or messy- are so incredibly valuable, and that the memories from our everyday life is what we will share with our grandchildren someday.

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So what does a documentary photography session look like?

 

I can’t answer that question for all documentary photographers, but I can answer that for myself- the woman blessed/cursed with seeing beautiful moments everywhere.

WITHIN A DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY SESSION YOU WILL LIVE YOUR LIFE, AND I WILL UNOBTRUSIVELY PHOTOGRAPH IT, KINDA LIKE HAVING A MUCH NICER VERSION OF A PERSONAL PAPARAZZI.

That’s it. Simple right?

It really is, but for a documentary photography session to go smoothly, I spend a lot of time getting to know every single person and family that I work with before the shoot, through various questionnaires and a consultation.

This process of careful planning and preparation allows me to learn who you are, what you cherish, and how to best tell your story in this season of your life.

“But Abbey, I still don’t know how this would work or what it would look like!”

Ok, ok. I’ll give you some examples.

First, the Morgan Family. They invited me into their home for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning, with a goal to document what their life looked like as parents of two little girls, married for five years, and in the first home that they have ever owned. During this time, they did exactly what we all want to do on a Saturday morning- relaxed as a family. Their oldest daughter led me throughout the house, showing me her bedroom with the bed that her engineer father built, and then all of the other rooms of the house. There was playing, drawing, snacks, and swinging on the indoor swing. None of it was planned, they just lived out their morning, and I just photographed.

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Next, I present a session that is part of my motherhood series, called You Are Called sessions, with Tab and her daughters. Just like with the Morgans, I went over to their home and photographed a couple of hours during their morning. This included one of the daughters waking up, breakfast time, admiring the Christmas tree, playing with playdoh, and doing the dishes. Yet again, I gave no direction within the session, but just photographed them just as they were.

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Finally, I give you Micah and Heather. In this session, I went over to Heather’s apartment for about an hour and photographed them baking cookies together. In our preparation for their session, they realized that a time that they especially love and cherish with each other is when they cook or bake together. Naturally, that’s what we decided to structure the session around, plus it resulted in enjoying fresh chocolate chip cookies at the end of the session. As with the other two sessions, there was no posing, just simply telling the story of what was going on in that moment.

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All of these sessions look different, but they have the same common goal and result: documenting a moment or activity that is deeply meaningful to the people in the photographs. While these sessions all took place in homes (which is pretty much my favorite place to photograph people), meaningful images can be made anywhere- as long as the place and the activity has meaning to the person being photographed.

As I said before, I’m cursed with seeing stories and images everywhere I go, and I’m an expert in finding beauty in the seemingly simple and mundane moments that make up the grand tapestry of our lives.

If you’re looking to have images that will go into your personal history book, that will remind you of where you’ve been, what you’ve endured, and will leave a legacy, contact me today.

I would love to tell your story.

With gratitude,
Abbey

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