Exercise · summary of Maarje van de Heuvel

Summery of document by Maarje Van de Huevel

The thrust of the article by Huevel addresses documentary photography from a perspective of how it is viewed and consumed within a contemporary space and the degree of experimentation happening within the genre of so called documentary.

Due to quantity of output and viewing by the general public we are seeing a phenomena according to Huevel of the general viewer being capable of distinguishing the indexical and symbolic codes within photography more and more. This is called visual literacy. Visual literacy acts like written literacy in that an understanding is derived from viewing symbols within pictures that speak of the external world or inner subjective experiences. Huevel identifies two major trends within documentary: Anglo-Saxon ‘human interest’ photography, meaning I imagine the socially engaged and aware type of documentation and then the tradition from communist social Russian east and Germany. The founders of documentary photography were the likes of Jacob Riis. These photographers served as a conscience in society, an observing eye of social situation working to a leftist interest of revealing social ills and inequalities. (Huevel, 2005)

The familiar medium and structure of documentary was typically reportage in the form of a series of images as a picture essay. Usually these sorts of reportage projects were published in magazines and journals and were accompanied by written text to fill out the narrative. As Huevel says, the premise of documentary was its conviction by the viewer in its transparency and truthfulness. This was unquestioned in general. With the arrival of TV, documentary photography found itself slowly losing its credibility. During the 60’s and 70’s documentary images began appearing in galleries, reclassified as ‘art photography’ and gaining a new type of viewing.

As documentary has taken its turn and blended to form what interdisciplinary and mixtures of genres documentary has undergone a re-categorisation. Huevel navigates various examples of how contemporary documentary photography is approached citing examples of Alan Sekula, Karen Knorr, Jeff Wall and various others that have departed from the more traditional style of documentary. Using these examples we see how documentary has changed its approach from the dry and objective depiction of events to a more creative and exploratory questioning of what documentary is, in a wider sense.


  1. Heuvel, M. Mirror of visual culture, discussing documentary (2005) https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/heuvel_discussingdocumentary.pdf [accessed, 2019]

Published by Truevisionphotography

I'm a student photographer studying through the OCA a UK based arts university. I'm in the foundation year of my studies and enjoying it immensely. I'm also a yoga teacher and co-founder of Bodhiyoga a buddhism based yoga teacher training program that runs in the UK and Spain each year. As a photographer I'm interested in all forms of fine art. I find the arts really important in my life. I love nature and aim to be in the outdoors as much as I can. Generally I think that all the different strands of my life are flowing to towards self development in the greatest sense of the term. The arts, buddhist practice yoga and meditation are all tools to that end. I feel committed to communication the these values in the world both through the visual arts as well as teaching.

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