Documentary Photography: Intro and Observational/Constructive Photography.

The first tutorial of the Documentary Photography module was catered to mainly focus on the introduction in to the module itself. By the end of this semester, it is required that the following tasks must be handed in on completion:

Task One:

  • Produce a documentary feature suitable for publication in a magazine, newspaper or website.

Task Two:

  • Produce a set of pictures in the photostudio or on location using the portable lighting kit.

Task Three:

  • Produce a work journal that includes all coursework assignments and your visual and theoretical research for these assignments. The work journal must also include your visual and theoretical research for your main assignment and a critical appraisal of that assignment.

My first initial thoughts about this module is that I feel that this will be a module that will test me not only practically but also theoretically as I consider myself to be more of a writer than a photographer. I do however look forward to studying the different styles of photography that go under the theme of documentary, as so this makes me eager to start researching what I would like to do as part of my main documentary feature.

Observational Photography

“The genuine reporter personally experiences what he (sic) captures on film (sic): laughter, tears, joy and sorrow, tragedy and comedy.  It is only through his subjective experience of objective facts that the photoreporter can become a witness to his time.” Tim Gidal, 1973.

What is it?

Observation photography is a style that is less intrusive as it captures a subject or theme in its natural environment, the photographer has no creative involvement  and little to no control in the shot as they simply photograph what they see is happening in front them, making them a mere witness to the unfolding event.

Demonstrations of Observational Photography/Photographers:

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange
Observational Photography By Jacob Riis

Photographers Jacob Riis and Dorothea Lange give classic examples of what observational photography entails as they do not intrude on the setting before them; they merely let their subjects move and think freely providing the honesty in both shots above.


As cameras over time have become smaller and lighter, it has therefore become easier for many photographers to shoot without interfering with the subject matter at hand. There is littler control over lighting as this style is often photographed on location, and as it is entirely observant, the key is to photograph only what is seen without adding creative involvement during or after.

Constructive Photography:

Constructed photography includes photomontage, staged imagery, image-text works…any photographic imagery wherein the conceptual engineering of the artist is clearly evident. Liz Wells Photography a Critical Introduction, 1997.

What is it?

The idea behind constructed photography is the creation of a photo, or photo series, where the image  was constructed by the photographer. This overall definition actually means a number of things as it could indicate that the photographer has either built elaborate sets to create an image that is not occurring in the real world (to create a constructed idea), or that they have made slight tweaks to the image after by manipulation etc. The idea behind constructed photography is to address a larger concept that showcases artistic values by creating images that will have similar traits to that of a painter, filmmaker, or installation artist.

Demonstrations of Constructive Photography/Photographers:

Gregory Crewdson
Loewe S/S Collection by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.

The similarities between these two photographs is that they are constructed by the photographers to create a fantasy world, staying true to the style of constructed photography. This is where the similarities are drawn to a halt as Crewdson’s photograph suggests are somewhat eerie and cinematic world with the use of light suggesting another presence that is dramatic and slightly gruesome in subject matter.  Lamsweerde and Matadin’s fashion advertisement for the label Loewe suggests that the production of fashion photography goes hand in hand with what is deemed as constructive as it contains a team which help create the photographer and client’s ideas. The photograph depicts what all fashion photography must achieve, to make the ordinary become extraordinary, which is exactly what Lamsweerde and Matadin achieve.


Choose one of these words and find online an Observational and Constructive Photographs that express one of the following themes:

  • Innocence
  • Danger
  • Anxiety
  • Exuberance
  • Celebration
  • Femininity
  • Celebrity

I decided that I would choose the theme of Femininity as I felt I would be able to find both a Observational and a Constructive shot for each.

Observational Photograph: I felt that this embodied femininity as it shows a mother and her child in an intimate shot.
Constructive Shot: This photograph to me shows another side of femininity, being that woman are often seen (particularly in the fashion industry) as being seductive and beautiful. The positioning of the model is simple but her outfit and facial expression show something more erotic thus suggesting that it is a constructed shot.

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