Research point · Documentary Identity and Place

Research into identity and place

Starting off a with some notes from Tilley who discusses the phenomenology of landscape in saying the we are essentially sense perceiving beings and the only real way to experience a landscape is via all of the senses. He informs us that the mediated experience of a landscape (one would assume cityscape as well) via a photo, painting, or some other recorded abstract representation can never be the same or a substitute for actually being in a place. Tilley also informs us that other cultures have a different sense hierarchy than in the West eg. In the Neolithic period the sense of sight was given new meaning as the gradual stripping away of trees meant that people could see the landscape and objects in it anew. Prior to this, the sense of smell and perhaps hearing would of been more relevant. (Tilley, 2010) [1]

Tilley also recommends familiarising oneself with a landscape by walking in and through it. This is undeniably close to the discipline of Psychogeography, giving another angle of view on the subject.

Jens Olof Lasthein in Abkhazia

Olof’s work was a six year project in the making, curiously working with a panoramic camera to document life in the Caucasus. Olof gives some useful advice to budding documentary photographers:

‘Trust yourself and your immediate feelings and emotions—your intuition. As simple as that. When photographing, never ask yourself why a specific person or light or situation attracts you, just throw yourself into it.’ (Jens, no date) [2]

For the academically trained photographer that is an interesting suggestion and I would agree with it to some extent. Although I also tend to think one has to study in order to be able to let go of study: first learn the art and then let the inspiration come…

None the less I find Olof’s work engaging enough. The wide angle view is something that attracts the eye as one gets a sense of the broader context that the image is being captured in and leaves some scope for the eye to roam in and explore (not unlike Robert’s work in ‘We English’)

One or two images in the series of this work (the little girl looking out of the back of the car) smacks of serendipity and perhaps one can see a pattern that was based upon previous similar documentary work by other photographers. This flags up my attention as sometimes It might seem that rather than looking for an original scene or series one might base work on what has gone before. The work is said to focus on the uncertainties and animosities between different regions and in the work of Olof he appears to have taken that as his motif. Each image would appear to have some sense about it of waiting or suspicion; something that is sufficiently disjointed to make the images interesting.

Philip Cheung

Cheung’s website

Cheung is a Canadian based photographer who spent five years travelling the middle east photographing various aspects of the culture and place with particular interests to understand and challenge the typical media depictions of the people (notably his project in the West Bank) and to show a more every day sense of the people living their lives.

Philip Cheung, The West Bank (2002) [3]
His images are well produced and edited, clean crisp in appearance and ranging in subject matter between factual, surrealist and picturesque.
Unlike many other photographers it has not been easy to find and bio details about this photographer.
David Goldblatt
David Goldblatt (b.1930, Randfontein) investigates the change over of times in South Africa that “counterpoints ideas, values, ethics and things” (Goldblatt, date unknown) [4]
His images largely contain black or white administrators standing formally before the camera, posing for the shot. There are also a quantity of landscape shots that show us something of peoples relationship to the land and the rituals that are performed there. many seemingly benign objects are placed behind cages, which seems a familiar theme for south Africa in general which to be indicates a sense of clear segregation and separation. The images hold a sadness and frustration in them.
David Goldblatt Willem Mathee, Acting Mayor and Dan Molangoanyane, Speaker, of Montsopa Local Municipality, Ladybrand, Free State, in Mathee’s office. (4_9405) (4_9410), 2004 [5]

Mikhael Subotzky 

Subotzky, SOUTH AFRICA. Beaufort West. 2006. Samuel, Beaufort West rubbish dump. [6]
Subotzky on the other hand focuses on the legal and judicial system in South Africa presenting a much more gritty and sharper set of images that show something of the inequality and dire conditions of prisons in the region.
His style is more interactive, showing images of not just still posed portraits but action taking place. These images are stark and somewhat unpleasant to view. These two set of images by the last photographers in some way indicate the way in which a story can be told that is so different but about similar themes in a similar place.


  1. Tilley, C. Interpreting Landscapes : Geologies, Topographies, Identities; Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology 3 (2010:25-7) [online] [accessed, April 2020]
  2. Olof, J. Meanwhile across the mountain (no date) [online, Lensculture] [accessed, April 2020]
  3. Cheung, P. The west bank (2002) [online]  [accessed, April 2020]
  4. Goldblatt, D (OCA manual: 69)
  5. Goldblatt, D. (See image 5) [online]   [accessed, April 2020]
  6. Subotzky, M. South Africa, Beaufort West, Samuel, Beaufort West rubbish dump[online] [accessed, April 2020]


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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