Photographing The Moments In-between

In-between what? Well, in-between the moments when the planets collide, when prior expectations suggest that the photograph should be made.

I recently read that a group of photographers work was post-documentary, that it had not been editorialised or had narrative placed upon it. I neither understand the need for such a label or the description of the label.

I presume that by not being editorialised the writer means that the work has not been placed within a story then published and that by not placing a narrative context to the work allows the work to exist outside of a pre-conceived narrative form. I may be wrong but that’s the best I can do.

It seems to be an anti-storytelling stance. Which is a strange position for a documentarion photographer to adopt.

In the days of amateur analogue photography the expense of film and developing saw many people document birthdays, holidays, and important family events on just one roll of film. The narrative of a year was restricted to important moments with just two or three frames used to picture the arranged photograph. There was no room for experimentation or the in-between moments.

I occasionally hear photographers opine about people making photographs of the mundane with smartphones. On the basis that the lack of a significant moment reduces the photograph to one of insignificance. The photograph is a document, therefore it would be reasonable to say that all images are of potential importance as proof of historical documentation. It would also I believe be reasonable to suggest that we remember the big things, the big events in our lives. We may not remember them with accuracy, but we will have our own memories that will remain important to us. The photograph can correct inaccuracies or suggest re-interpretations of those memories, but the memory will be there.

But what of those moments that seemed unimportant at the time and therefore do not become lodged in our memory data banks? With the passing of time these can take on an importance beyond their initial relevance.

These are the moments in-between. These are the meals we ate, the everyday details of our lives that do not stand-out from our normal existence. The bus ride to work, the daily commute, the people we work with, our friends and family, the environments we move through, where we live and how we live. There is nothing new in me suggesting this as many photographers have made the mundane their central area of visual investigation over the years. Too many to name in fact, but since the adoption of digital photography and the subsequent rise of the smartphone as camera the documentation of the small detail of life has become easier and easier.

This can be a problem for some photographers. Images of the mundane are open to non- and mis-interpretation by those who do not see the value of such images. This is often an issue heightened by curatorial or conceptual writing attempting to bring deeper meaning to photographs, placing them on a pedestal of importance that may not align with the work being described. Documentation of the mundane invites ridicule, but it is important.

It is important for two reasons. The first is historical and the second is personal. The historical is self-evident, but the personal may require a little explanation. I started this article talking about narrative and the documentation of the in-between times is central to our own personal narratives. It is the subject matter that surrounds us, informs us and shapes us. In reality the mundane is the majority of our lives. Therefore to dismiss it as being unimportant would be to suggest that our lives are only defined by the big moments. This would be untrue and disrespectful of our own existence.

We no longer need to make a roll of film last twelve months, and we now carry a camera with us in our pockets most, if not all of the time. We can document the in-between whenever and wherever we like, there are no restrictions other than our enthusiasms to do so. The photographs we make are all part of our personal narrative, we provide the context and although they may not be published there is no sense of the ‘post’ in this work, other than in its true sense, as after the event.

Image: © Grant Scott 2015

Dr. Grant Scott is the the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018

© Grant Scott 2022

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