Trusting the truth

Trust is not a word one often associates with documentary photography, writes Sean O'Toole.

First Published in

Truth, certainly, but not trust. The work of the photographic team Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin squarely confront this notion. "Documentary photography is also a style," explains South African-born Broomberg. It is a small statement with big import. In his work, The Decisive Moment (1952), Henri Cartier-Bresson defined photography's decisive moment as "the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organisation of forms which gives that event its proper expression". This statement, by one of the founders of Magnum picture agency, is now entrenched as the mantra of photojournalists worldwide. Looking at Broomberg and Chanarin's impressive portfolio of work for the Italian publication Colors, it is clear that they have a completely different conception of the documentary image. Says Broomberg: "All we're doing is giving people warning, letting them represent themselves instead of pretending to catch the 'defining moment' that speaks the unwitting truth. Point is we're being self-conscious about our intervention, about the fact that it is a mediated truth."

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin's images have been widely published internationally. Their print monograph, Trust, documents the work they presented on a solo show at the Hasselblad Centre in Gothenburg, Sweden. Currently creative editors of Colors magazine, the duo have previously exhibited work at London's Photographers Gallery, as well as Bradford's National Museum of Photography, Film & Television.