Documentary Photography & Me: A Selfish Endeavour

First off, I guess an introduction is as good a place to start as any. Hi, my name is Matt. I was 28 years old at the last count. I was born and raised in Stoke-on-Trent in the UK. I now live in the historical city of Chester with my fiancee. I’m a design engineer and graphic designer. And I also photograph stuff.

I’m a recent convert to documentary photography really. To be honest, photography kind of found me. I’d dipped my toe a few times before but it didn’t really catch on. I’d used film cameras a couple of times when I was a teenager (mostly cos I thought they were retro and made me look cool) but that was about it.

Later on I got a digital camera for taking product shots for another, albeit short-lived, blog that I was starting. Around that time, I was about to go on holiday with my family to Anglesey for a week, and since I had the camera I figured I’d take it with me. I started shooting everything I saw, mostly whilst I got used to using the camera. Of course I took some holiday snaps too. I enjoyed it.

How I found documentary photography

Rhoscolyn Anglesey

Keep Damage Off, Rhoscolyn, Anglesey, 2015. Matthew Martin.

When I got back home I decided I was going to become a landscape photographer. I upgraded my camera (almost immediately) to the best 36-megapixel monster that money could buy and bought a sturdy tripod. I taught myself how the camera worked, how to post-process my images and I dabbled with HDR (as a graphic designer I already had a good handle on photoshop). However, I have a busy schedule and a short attention span and making special trips and climbing hills to take photos and then spending hours editing them into HDR masterpieces monstrosities soon became tiresome.
I was still interested in photography, but didn’t know what to photograph or how to find the time. I watched videos online for tips, techniques and camera reviews (I already had a major case of G.A.S – Gear Acquisition Syndrome). One day, I stumbled across the subject of street photography and documentary photography and started to look into it. I’d never come across it before but it struck a chord with me. The work of photographers like Stephen Shore, William Eggleston and Martin Parr really appealed to me.

William-Eggleston-Untitled-c1970

Untitled, c1970. William Eggleston.

Causeway Inn, Tampa, Florida. Stephen Shore.

Causeway Inn, Tampa, Florida. Stephen Shore.

The Last Resort, New Brighton. Martin Parr.

The Last Resort, New Brighton. Martin Parr.

I looked back at all of my snapshots that I’d previously written off. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became. The snapshots now made sense and I realised their importance to me. They were the perfect way for me to use photography. I could document a time, a place, my own life and the people around me. I didn’t need to worry about creating technically perfect, super-sharp, noise free images. I didn’t need to spend hours post-processing them. The beauty had been right there all along, the beauty of the everyday. I loved the haphazardness of it, and it represented freedom. So in the end, I realised that the fun of photography was in using the camera to take snapshots just like I’d done on holiday. I don’t have a lot of time on my hands, and I have a terrible memory. Documenting the places I go and the people I see seemed like it would be a good way to fit photography around my life. I figured that if I don’t learn anything else about photography, even if I never improved my skills, at least in 50 years I’d have a ton of photographs to look back on and reminisce about “the good old days”.

Where I’m at with documentary photography

In the last 12 month’s I’ve shot pretty judiciously whilst trying to find my own personal style. After a year, I’m still not completely sure where it’s going but I know I want to do something with the photos. Share them. And share that journey as I learn more.

Morrisons, Nantwich, 2016

I don’t have the body of work around me to put together an acclaimed photobook. Far from it. But that’s not the point for me. Documentary photography has become a lifestyle choice. I’m easily bored and photography is something to fill the time with the added bonus of capturing memories. It’s a way to make the day more interesting. I take my camera everywhere.

I’ve added some of my favourite shots from the last twelve months to my project page. I haven’t done a great deal of editing/sequencing. I find making choices of one photo over another to be very difficult. I just picked the shots that I liked and the ones that meant the most to be. They are not necessarily the best-composed or technically proficient documentary photographs. I’m not sure whether any of this will develop into something more than personal documentary, so for now my images will be appearing as a sort of stream-of-consciousness. Like a visual diary. I don’t really want to constrain things too much for fear of making it too hard for me to maintain.

Endless Proof is a project that started out with no other purpose than to document my life and the people around me. And for the time being I don’t want it to really be anything more than that. I guess in one sense I’m only one step above your average teenager on instagram, or parent with a point and shoot camera. I take pictures of the things that interest me. To be truthful, it’s a totally selfish endeavour really, but every now and then you have to do something for yourself. Especially when it comes to creativity.

I think most street photographers and documentary photographers are selfish. At least a little bit. At least part of them takes photos for themselves. Because it pleases them. Garry Winogrand said “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed”.

I know I don’t take photos in the street for the people I’m shooting. I do it for me. To capture a moment. I want to hoard these moments and keep them for posterity.

Documentary photography and you

If you are thinking of taking up street photography or documentary photography you might ask why you should document the world when there are these master photographers doing it already and doing it much better than you. But they aren’t documenting your life, your family, your friends. The places you go or the people you see. Only you can do that. Remember, the photos you take are as much a reflection of yourself as they are of your subjects.

Anyway, enough rambling for now. I figured that writing about my journey, learning as I go, and passing on that knowledge to others would be another good way to keep me interested documentary photography and my Endless Proof project. I’ve always found that writing about a subject helps me to understand it more clearly and I hope that by doing this it will help nurture the thought processes and the approaches I take to develop my work.

How about you? How did you find your groove with photography and who inspires you?

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Filed under: Inspiration, Rambling

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I am an engineer, graphic designer, documentary photographer and blogger based in Chester, UK. I blog about my experiences of photography with the hope of encouraging you to start documenting your life and the world around you.

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