Some ten years back, I had the feeling that much documentary photography was losing something of its edge and that photographers were no longer as interested in this mode of production as a way to talk about people and place. Perhaps it was the fading magazine world that made this happen, the lack of spaces to exhibit work or the ubiquity of the camera in the modern world. Lately, I have noticed many more women taking up documentary and although a considerable number of them convert their practice to a more conceptual fine art practice either due to their education or simply through discovering that they really aren’t a documentary maker, some strong characters are staying with the genre. And they are exploring a wide range of very new approaches to documentary practice.
Bieke Depoorter has taken an interesting and arguably dangerous approach to documentary photography. For her project Ou Menya (With Me) she travelled through Russia staying with her subjects for one night (each subject) armed with little other than her camera, a sleeping bag and a translated note asking to spend the night staying in a stranger’s home. Without knowing any Russian she has managed to insert herself into many strangers lives, even though her stay in each home was brief. As someone travelling alone in a foreign land anything could have happened, but this vulnerability helped to break down the barriers to intimacy. Her photographs connect the viewer with the realities of life in a part of the world that is very far removed from the exhibition spaces in which the images are shown. Depoorter’s work brings an unusual view to the mundanity of ordinary life. The language barrier proved not to be an obstruction to the communication and cooperation of her subjects. As she says “You create a very special atmosphere when you live with someone but do not speak the same language”.
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