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What Is Documentary?

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Documentary photography is a style of photography that is about capturing the decisive moment, some people treat it as a synonym for photojournalism. It gives us a clear and precise portrayal of individuals, events, and items, and is regularly utilised in real life reportage „Documentary relies on the construction of an image in the representation of reality” – David Bate. There is often a story behind the documentary photography which is to affect social change. This type of photography shows us alternative ways of seeing and understanding the situations that shape the world in which we live.

„Actually, documentary pictures include every subject in the world – good, bad, indifferent. I have yet to see a fine photograph which is not a good document.” – Berenice Abbott

The initial concept for What is Documentary is to focus on documenting street style fashion scene. It will be a representation of reality. My work will be a series of photographs caught ‘of the guard’ in a slight paparazzi style. Because the truth is that we – as people crave attention and we love it. We put things on our body to feel more confident, show off or to camouflage ourselves. So that is why I wanted to capture people who had dressed in a way that caught my eye to contribute to the democratisation of fashion.

Development Ideas

The first idea was to take photographs from a music event, a concert that I went to. Robin Schulz – he is a well-known electronic dance music DJ, was performing at Ministry of Sound on 6th of April and I wanted to capture his amazing set. I thought it was a good idea because it would be a challenge for myself to document the atmosphere of the show. Unfortunately, I come out with disappointing photographs because of bad, low light conditions and flash that I used ruined the colourful effects of a laser show.

The second idea is to document the fashion street style. The place I choose to take my photographs was Camden because it is an interesting place with lots of interesting people. It was a challenge to me because in this part of London everyone seems to be busy and in a rush. So I thought that it would be a good opportunity to photograph as many individuals as I could spot and would agree to be a part of my project. I approached those who caught my eye and looked interesting.

Bill Cunningham

My first inspiration was an American fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. He is a hero of fashion street photography who always managed to be in the right place, at the right moment to get the best photographs for his „The New York Times” column called “On the Street”. His work is authentic and has been honoured with the Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for his absolutely amazing work by the French Ministry of Culture. Cunningham was extremely passionate about what he was doing and was never motivated by money or fame, he preferred putting a spotlight on others, rather than himself – “He wanted to find subjects, not be the subject. He wanted to observe, rather than be observed.”

„Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.” – Bill Cunningham

Here are some photos that were taken by Bill Cunningham and inspired me:

Bill Cunningham for the NY Times, 2014

The photographs seen above were featured in „The New York Times” publication back in 2014. The photographer focused mostly focused on shoes, particularly sneakers in this issue. Some of them were designed by Giuseppe Zanotti, some are high heeled and others are from Jeremy Scott’s collaboration with Adidas. We can tell that Cunningham focused on the shape and uniqueness of the shoes.

Mario Testino

The second inspiration of mine was a really famous fashion photographer – Mario Testino. He focuses on capturing celebrity campaigns, modelling and fashion editorial work with the high-end fashion magazines. His work has been exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery in association with Vogue in 2002.

Mario Testino „Towel Series”, Cara Delevingne and Jourdan Dunn

„I think girls and guys feel this freedom at being able to express themselves because there is no predetermined way of how they should put the towel on. You can do anything you want… wear it however you want” – Mario Testino

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Towel Series Highlights

Each of those images is a portrait of the celebrity, striking a pose either straight forwards or sideways. They both have towels wrapped around their heads. Eye contact is really strong because it seems like they are looking into our eyes. The first image is Cara Delevingne. She is leaning her arm to the side and touching her face. The tone of the image is cold with bright whites and harsh shadows comparing to the second one, which is soft toned with light greys and whites. Natural lighting reflects around the subject. The second image is also a portrait but of Jourdan Dunn. The white background shows empty space. I can tell that the image was taken in a studio. I feel if Mario Testino is trying to show the true, natural beauty. This series of portraits inspired me so much that I decided to create something similar – show the true beauty and pleases the aesthetic senses.

Scott Schuman aka The Sartorialist

My final inspiration was Scott Schuman, also known by the name of his blog as The Sartorialist. He is a street style blogger and photographer. He gained popularity in 2005 when he began taking photographs of random, stylish people in the city and posted them on his website. From that point forward, it has turned out to be a standout amongst the most conspicuous blogs. Schuman’s work joins the fashion editorials and the genuineness of street photography. His fundamental intrigue is taking photographs of ordinary individuals in the city.

„I thought I could shoot people on the street the way designers looked at people, and get and give inspiration to lots of people in the process. My only strategy when I began The Sartorialist was to try and shoot style in a way that I knew most designers hunted for inspiration.” – Scott Schuman

The Sartorialist „On the Street…Palais de Tokyo, Paris”, 2018 The Sartorialist „On the Street…Via Piranesi, Milan’, 2019

The photographs seen above were taken by Schuman and inspired me the most whilst I was shooting.

In the first photo, we can see a woman who is wearing a faux fur leopard print coat which looks interesting. She probably does not know that the photo is being taken because she looks in a different direction from the camera. The photo was taken in Paris during Paris Fashion Week so the woman is probably a popular blogger, Instagram influencer or maybe just a model who finished her job. The second photograph was taken in Milan and is a photograph of Jenny Walton – she is an in-demand, Brooklyn based fashion illustrator and creative director for The Sartorialist. In the photo, she is wearing a patterned coat paired with some eye-catching shoes and a vintage bag. Her style is a mix of vintage and new.

Dissemination of work

I think that my work should be disseminated either in a magazine or an art gallery. My choice would be for it to be published in a fashion magazine such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar. Both of those magazines are independent, devoted to all those having a passion for street photography and unique in the field of photography. I would also consider publishing my photographs in a daily magazine such as Daily Mail, in a fashion section.

When it comes to exhibiting my work, I would frame my images and display them on a white gallery wall to show people what I am capable of. I would show it as a series. The perfect locations for my exhibition would be:

Michael Hoppen Gallery – because it has been specialising in all forms of photography for over 20 years. As a gallery, they help new and interesting artists with exhibiting their work them alongside acknowledged nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first-century photographic masters

The National Portrait Gallery – because it holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world and one of my inspiration’s – Mario Testino’s work has been exhibited here

I would also share my images on Instagram and Facebook because these are the biggest social media networks and I feel like I could find my biggest audience on there.

Artist’s Statement

My finished work is a series of fashion street style photographs which show unique individuals captured in Camden, London. I feel as if my project is a celebration of fashion and gave me an opportunity to capture people with character – their unique and mesmerising style seen daily on the streets. I decided to document fashion street style because fashion to me is a way of expressing ourselves, it is a fun way of doing it. It makes many people happy and to me a good fashion photograph is about interesting clothing, good light, a certain mood, where a story is being told. I photographed people with personality in the way they present themselves. I took a documentary approach because I wanted to do something that was more meaningful to me and that is why I documented fashion trends on the streets and took pictures of people, those who were interesting to me, caught my eyes, those who had something that stood out, whether it was their emotions or their clothing. The good thing about my project was that the photos could be taken just about anywhere with natural lighting that creates highlights without covering up facial features. It is about understanding that street style is about trends and characters who need to be photographed, they crave it, especially nowadays everybody feels flattered when asked for photos and I had no problem asking if they want to be photographed.

They all work together as a sequence because every single photograph shows fashion street style. I printed them on glossy paper. The reason why I choose it is the quality and beautiful defined felt structure of the paper reminds me of pages from a fashion magazine.


  1. Bate, D. (2016) Photography: The Key Concepts (Second Edition). London: BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC
  2. Shinkle, E. (2017) Fashion Photography: The Story in 180 Pictures. London: the Thames and Hudson Ltd
  3. Hershberger, A.E. (2014) Photographic Theory: An Historical Anthology 1st Edition. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell
  4. Cunningham, B. (2018) Fashion Climbing: A New York Life Bill. London: Penguin Press
  5. 5. Mario Testino, The Towel Series. Accessed 10/12/18
  6. 6. Bill Cunningham. Accessed 01/04/19
  7. 7. The Sartorialist. Accessed 15/04/19

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What Is Documentary? (2021, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from
“What Is Documentary?” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2021,
What Is Documentary? [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Sept. 2023].
What Is Documentary? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Sept 24]. Available from:
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