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Stone Paper Scissors (2008)


To describe social documentary photography as "the art of photography" is to imply that a zenith has been reached and there can be no development. In reality the recent vogue for documentary is simply the most recent historical phase of photographic practice.

The cultural annexation by the museums of photography as a meta narrative of history is a particularly english phenomena whose cultural guardians prefer that "art photography" should remain a handmaiden of the social sciences. It should be noted that this is not the view shared by other cultures who take a longer view were the historical subject was once deemed the only acceptable genre for academic painters, carvers etc and the history of art is one of iconoclasts who asserted that ancient concerns should not direct contemporary practice.

Beyond the narrow confines of the english museum an argument is often made for the political content of the social documentary photographer. While it is true that many earlier artists did use the camera in passionate campaigns against abuse and injustice, in the main the tendency has been pragmatic; to profit from illustrating the consequences of events for the marginalised and the disposessed, a view so partial as to not warrant the description of a political history, when the causes and orchestrations of these events are largely absent. Trafficking in war and misfortune the moral compass of the documentarist is frequently only eclipsed by the more venal peeping tom who with a longer lens snatches sloppy gossip about a smaller group - the very rich.

Consequently instead of a broad historical record we are offered a media scrapbook of tragic or amusing anecdotes. Perhaps all history is partial but let us not claim that this is the triumph of the art of photography. The other outcome of our contemporary era of surveillance and people photography for profit is an open hostility toward candid photographers where even concerned photographers are obstructed because today nobody is happy to be photographed in a public place.

Today a more discursive historical record is the personal snapshot facilitated by the photographic literacy of anyone with a mobile phone. For such an enabled population the role of the alchemical photographer who recorded partial histories is redundant; photographer turn the lens upon thyself.

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Grid Grim Up North Cat Crane Last Cigarette Idas Return QE II Peoples Poet Slippers Ribena by Night Elderberry Wine Traffic Merging In Memoriam Shredder Scales Trout Dish Lawries Foot Paper Boats

Stone Paper Scissors (2008)

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