Professor of Documentary Photography
Undertaking documentary practice: some perspectives on the photographic essay.
There is a clear relationship between documentary practices and visual anthropology, especially in the area of ethnographic film. Still photography, however, seems less well established within visual anthropology.
This presentation will describe the reportage / photo essay approach to making documentary photography projects. It will describe this very specifically from the perspective of a practitioner making images about specific subjects and usually over extended periods of time. The presentation will deal with some of the methods and mechanics of this approach: learning how to shoot individual photographs, how to edit from these frames, how to think in terms of larger projects involving groupings, sequences or series of images and how to construct photo essays.
These methods are as much about understanding how photographs work, how they emerge, understanding the subject being documented and about developing confidence and essential social skills as they are about choices of technology.
Whilst this presentation does not attempt to describe the wide spectrum of documentary practices, reference will be made to several significant bodies of work as well as to the speaker’s own photographs.
Patrick Sutherland is a photographer who undertakes personal documentary projects. His first book Wetland, published with writer Adam Nicolson, resulted from two years living and working in the Somerset Levels. A commission from the Impressions Gallery was published as the essay Farm Blight in The Independent Magazine and won a World Press Photo Award.
For over two decades Patrick has been documenting the culturally Tibetan communities of the Spiti Valley in North India. The project eventually led to an international touring exhibition and the book Spiti, with essay by the Tibetan filmmaker Tenzing Sonam and dedication by Henri Cartier-Bresson. A more recent project on the Buchen, travelling lay religious theatre performers, exorcists, musicians and healers unique to Spiti, was triggered by their negative reaction to his reportage photographs of them and led to an exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum and a book Disciples of a Crazy Saint, with Tashi Tsering. Patrick is currently researching the emerging genre of computer-modified photographs displayed in Spiti houses.
Patrick Sutherland is Professor of Documentary Photography at the University of the Arts London.