Landscape Documentary – ‘Purpose’

For the landscape photography, I decided to choose the Documentary genre, as I was very intrigued by the simplicity of how a photograph can tell a story. With that in mind, I decided to take a photograph of my Grandfather whom is born in Gujarat, India.


My grandfather’s story is very interesting and indeed inspiring. His wise words are “When a human is born on earth, God sends him with a purpose.” He was born in a small village called ‘Nadiad’ in India, where his father owned a small tailoring business. Though due to financial struggle, he had to give up studying and was forced to serve. His dreams were to become a Chartered Accountant. He became a typist. Only earning 91 rupees; four pounds per month. At this time of crisis and struggle, he challenged his own words and questioned ‘What is my purpose? Did I have one?” After a few years of hard work and saving money, he managed to complete his studies and received his Bachelor of Commerce and Law Bachelor. Living in one room, shared by a family of 8 people was difficult. Though he still remembers studying under the streetlights in the dirty gullies. Overall, his story takes us on an emotional journey from being a helpless, brave typist, to a hard-working bank manager. But most importantly, a proud Grandfather.

The photograph itself has vast connotations and immediately makes you think about the subject. I deliberately decided to frame my subject on the left hand side of the frame, closer to the main tree. Thus this also gave us a sense of space, atmosphere and location, representing this idea of freedom. The empty space would relate to his past story of how his pockets were empty, his life was full of struggle and now he is free. Therefore, shooting at a nearby large park was an advantage, as I could experiment with different shot types, see which space was perfect, choose what I wanted in the frame, etc.

From millions of tree, why did I choose that particular tree? When I noticed the tree, the fact that from the rest, it was dry, Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 18.02.49parched and bare, struck me. The parchedness branches signified paths, digging deep into the subject’s roots, proving a sense of journey. Simply suggesting how my Grandfather had several directions given to him, but he chose the one that dignified him, the tough road. Research explained that this type of tree is known as a ‘Solitary tree’, being that it is singular, connoting how my Grandfather was alone in his situation. Where he had no one stood by him, except for his brave soul.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 18.02.40With that in mind, his posture was perfectly captured where we can assume he is looking above into the sky. Relating to his past story, documenting how he always looked up to God and believed in himself. Hence, the non-direct mode of address, where I wanted the audience to still see the life in his eyes, but not forcefully. This aspect of his spiritual persona and that calm ambience was definitely fulfilled with the complimenting location and subjects stance. My Grandfather always is telling us stories of how he was born to fulfill his Karma and how his purpose is now what defines him. Therefore the fact that he is showing a thoughtful look denotes how he may be questioning God or even thanking God.

From an audience’s perspective, being gated by the initial story is key in making a photograph unfold the story so that words are not needed. Consequently, simply by looking at the subjects clothing, we can immediately identify the type of person he is. For example, the blue denim jeans connotes hard work, in contrast to his leather jacket denoting wealth, maybe luxury. This forms the debate between white-collar vs. blue collar, demonstrating his journey from rags to riches. Yet still suggesting how he has not forgotten his old roots or past.

In terms of the edit, I slightly adjusted the brightness and with the quick selection tool, selected the tree and increased the contrast. This made the tree look bolder and noticeable, thus the green grains and cracks were reinforced, denoting its historical existence. Not much enhancing was needed, as during the shoot, I used a larger aperture to gain a wide shot of he scene. This meant that a slower shutter speed was necessary. Having said that, since I used my tripod, the photograph remained still and not out of focus. Though I did increase the ISO to 1600 to raise the brightness, so the image avoided any dullness.


Before hand, I did vast research on what documentary photography initially was. I found that Documentary photographs tended to focus on particular backgrounds of the subject, places and historical events. They were captured to tell a specific story and send a subjective message. Therefore, I decided to choose this genre, as my subject definitely told a story which was of the past, looking at his background, hence documenting his life.

In particular, Amy Helene Johansson’s Photography definitely inspired me, due to the way in which her images told such powerful stories through powerful subjects. Browsing through her wonderful gallery, I came across a beautiful photograph, which caught my eye.

This photo belongs to

This photo belongs to

Clearly, the photograph was carefully framed, where the young boy was cleverly placed edging towards the railway tracks. Immediately due to his tatty clothing and the location I could grasp this was taken somewhere in India, suggesting how this boy may have lived in the slums. I particularly found the background very interesting. The fogginess connoted this ambiguous message, referring to how this boy may have been fed up of starvation and poverty, that he was deciding to commit suicide, giving the camera a final look. The cold, hard stare definitely connected with the audience, where we want to somehow help him and talk to him. Likewise, through the location of my photograph, we are able to grasp so much about my grandfather’s story. Having said that, the boy himself could have also been starting his job, or begging for money. Thus, the dusk was represented through the fog and mundane atmosphere, providing a morning ambience.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 18.07.39

This image belongs to Chris Floyd

Moreover, I researched Chris Floyd’s work, another keen photographer whom had very interesting photographs. I focused on his gallery named ‘Gathered’ which to me contained photographs which were lenient towards the documentary genre. The image on above portrayed a middle aged women whom perceived to be working in a manual labour environment, hence the tools, factory location and equipment. With that in mind, the props itself and grimy location connoted ‘work’ where I immediately began to think about her background. But also the fact that she looked Asian suggested how women there also propelled masculine jobs. The lighting in particular is what caught my attention. I loved how the natural light from the window behind flushed its way in, gently lighting the subject and to an extent creating a vignette around the edges. From the photograph I could clearly see how certain objects and places significantly assisted tell the story.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 12.00.11

This photo belongs to Chris Floyd

For example, in the first image of the two women, the city skyline in the background gave us clues of where they may be but also an idea of their lifestyles. With them smiling and using a direct mode of address, but also their casual clothing, the subjects seemed confortable, happy and settled, again digging deep into their background. Raising the questions of what do they do for a living? Are they sisters? Morevoer, the natural, warm light added to that idyllic ambience, where the audience could grasp maybe a sense of achievement. This which could have been their success in education in a top foreign University.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 12.00.45

Similarly to my photograph, the framing and location in the image above also tells us various things about the subject. The fact that the place looks like a neighborhood, homely area, which is reinforced by the sign stating, “Watch for children”. Immediately we feel a sense of security and how the subject is safe sitting alone. To me it heaves a feel of the American Suburbs where people regularly are in and out of the streets, sitting, relaxing, riding their bikes, gardening etc. Focusing on the subject, she seemed quite young yet could have been a early mother. We begin to wonder whether the house on the very right is hers and whether she’s sitting there waiting for her children to come home from school.

Last but not least, I decided to create a newspaper tear sheet from scratch (Which I really enjoyed creating. Even though I could have got one off the internet, I had the drive to create one from scratch). With my Granddad being quite older, I purposely chose to embed his story in “The Independent” newspaper, especially on the Sunday (due to its older generation target audience). I decided to call that article “Roots of life” relating to his past story. The initial layout was very formal and the extra image of the right created a ‘real’ finish. The quotes were inserted, to reinforce how the article was documenting his life. The main image definitely anchored the story and pushed the emotional journey stated where honestly words were not needed to tell the story.

tear sheet

Overall, looking at professional photographers, I can grasp that the location and subject are the two main aspects when it comes to the documentary genre. Especially, the framing and how certain objects in the frame give us clues to their story. For example, the tree in my case, sending polysemic connotations of my Grandfathers ultimate journey. But also Amy Helene’s photograph, where the young boy’s clothing speaks for itself, denoting poverty. Likewise, Chris Floyds image where the props are so powerful and beautifully framed, creating a border for the subject suggesting how she works in this masculine environment, looking pretty but also quite daunting.  After researching, I have definitely gained a better insight on the Documentary genre and am inspired to capture more meaningful photographs.


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