Guest Speaker: Chris Gillman Gable

Our guest speaker, Chris Gillman Gable,  came to talk to us about documentary photography.  Chris is currently a lecturer in digital photography at Otago Polytechnic.

As is the case for many photographers, Chris started out taking pictures of things that he found aesthetically pleasing.  After years of travelling, he returned to Dunedin in his late 30’s, to discover a different looking Dunedin.  It was then that he became more aware of the transient nature of life and began his journey into taking photos that told a story and which preserved a slice in time.

Chris explained the various forms of documentary photography and gave examples of well-known photographers.

Typologies: this form may be seen as capturing details of a single subject, often seen as a rather scientific or analytical method.


Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) produced a massive photographic study of the various forms and designs of plants, as seen here.

(Sub)culture: ethnological form of documentary photography.  Examples of this form include Edward Curtis’s (1868-1952) 30 year project photographing native americans.

August Sander (1876-1964) also similarly photographed portraits of germans, including during the Nazi regime.


Issues: Lauren Greenfield’s (1966) photographs chronicle the culture of anorexia, youth and gender issues.

Geographical: photographers who capture aspects of their surrounds, such as Frank Meadow Sutcliffe in the 1860’s, who took pictures of victorian life in a northern english fishing town. Eugene Atget (1857-1927) also famously documented changes in parisian architecture.

Another example was Vivian Maier (1926-2009) who documented life on the Chicago streets.


Vernacular: French photographer, Jacques Lartigue (1894-1986), started taking photos when he was a young boy – everyday photographs of his family and friends, often at play.

The Human Condition: Phillip Toledano (b.1968) documented the emotional declining health of his father due to dementia.

Richard Billingham (b. 1970) became well known with his candid photographs of his alcoholic father.


Events/Narrative: Frank Hurley’s (1885-1962) work as an official photographer on Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to Antarctica, documents the ill-fated trip.  He also later documented many battlefield scenes during the war.


Documentary photography makes us think about the significance of the photos we take.  As time passes, our photos take on a new meaning and value.  It is important to record not only the happy, beautiful moments of our lives but also record a slice of time that can become a valuable reference in the future.

Chris concluded this interesting and thought provoking talk with some examples of his recent works in documentary photography.  These can be seen on his website: