2500 essay

Documentary to Mocumentary

“Documentary photography is a style of photography that provides a straightforward and accurate representation of people, places, objects and events, and is often used in reportage”(Tate, 2018).

Documentary photography has long been established as the source for providing accurate visual representation of events taking place, such as the burning of the Hindenburg in May 1937 or the collapse of the world trade centre towers September 2001.

Hindenburg disaster by Sam Shere/Getty Images
9/11 Robert Giroux/Getty Images

It has become generally accepted by the public that if an image exists of such an event or outcome then it must indeed have taken place or be true. However throughout history documentary images have been manipulated for varying reasons, to sway public opinion, add gravitas to the image or even to hide the facts as they were. there is also the problem of physics and how the limitations of the mechanical and chemistry distort the actual scene as viewed by an individual.

One of the very first images to have captured a living person is in fact a misleading representation of the actual scene.

Only notably preceded by Niepce photo 12 years earlier in 1826 (Fig 1), Boulevard du Temple is thought to be the earliest sharp image that captured human form. 

The scene is of a lively street in Paris as captured by Louis Daguerre, however, due to the process employed and the impurities of the chemicals, the exposure was between ten and fifteen minutes in duration, 

Fig 1 View from the Window at Le Gras by Niépce
Fig 2 Boulevard du Temple by Daguerre

this caused anything moving in the scene to disappear, so giving the appearance of an empty street save for a person having his shoes shined, It is also thought that Daguerre would have known this fact and paid for a gentleman to stand still in the scene long enough for his likeness to be captured.

This is manipulation by pure physics and chemistry. and accepted as a by-product of such limitations. 

More sinister though is manipulation to mislead the viewer.  And that is what I intend to examine in this essay. 


Tate. (2018). Documentary photography – Art Term | Tate. [online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/d/documentary-photography [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].