Documentary & Art

mickyatesAbstract, Aftermath, Art, Cambodia, Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Documentary, Photography, Plans & Notes, Project Development, SSWeek4, SurfacesStrategies, Traces, Webinar 1 Comment

Had a very good webinar today with Cemre and Yas. Just want to jot my thoughts down here, not in any particular order.

Cemre asked about our ‘hands off’ / no camera project this week. In my case, whilst she appreciated that I set out my process, there was a question as to whether this might apply to my future practice, and in particular the Cambodian Project.

I noted that other people had seen what I hadn’t – that the ‘cyanotypes’ gave a sense of mystery, almost dread to the scenes. Taking away the colours and detail led to questions of ‘who is there’? So, yes, there is application here in my ‘traces’ exploration, for aftermath photography, avoiding some of the traps of ‘dark tourism’, potentially.

Related to that, we discussed Kafkanistan, recommend by Cemre. Lukas Birk, a co-author, is a friend of hers and I should make contact and talk over the project.

For my taste, whilst the storytelling and eclecticism of the book is inspirational, I do feel it is rather positioned ‘from the photographer’s eyes’. Of course, we need to have our own authority and vision on our work, but I really do want my project to be more from ‘their eyes’.

This led to a broader conversation about documentary, traces and art. I noted that documentary is usually no longer news, it’s aftermath. So finding new strategies and aesthetics to make the photographic point is the key. But I do not want to go full-on abstract, which ether seems to be a lot of in this program. There has to be context, meaning and story. Cemre rightly said ‘well, that’s your problem then!’.

Yas suggested getting in really close, cropping, finding hidden details. Great idea!

In the conversation on Yas’ work, Cemre suggested a couple of photographers, both of whom I really liked, for different reasons.

Esther Teichmann and Elina Brotherus

Teichmann’s use of collage in single images, and then overlapping works in installation is worthy of more study, as I consider how to engage my audiences with what is, in essence, an ‘old’ story.

And the work of Brotherus is very pertinent to my work, capturing her own story with IVF – poignant and powerful portraiture.

Melancholy but without (too much) self-pity.

And I find the juxtaposition of detail and context with her self-portraits a powerful way to bring her story alive. Akin to what I have been calling traces, although in Brotherus’ case, those traces are very much ‘here and now’, rather than historical.

Cemre also reminded me that I need to get on with meeting Cambodians in the UK …


Birk, Lukas & Foley, Sean. 2008. Kafkanistan. Austria.

Herschdorfer, Natalie. 2011. Afterwards. London: Thames & Hudson.

Sharpley, Richard and Stone, Philip R. (Eds.). 2009. The Darker Side of Travel. Bristol: Channel View Publications.

Terry, Sara. 2018. War Is Only Half the Story: Ten Years of the Aftermath Project. London: Dewi Lewis Publishing.


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