A unique blending of art and activism, DOCUMENT showcases recent social documentary work from Boston on Boston through the eyes of emerging to early midcareer photographers. Boston has a long tradition of documentary work, burgeoning especially in the 1970s and early 80s—from production to exhibition, collection to publication. Social documentary work found its way less and less into galleries and the press, although the tide might be turning. As the PRC celebrates its 30th anniversary year, and we look back to 1976, it is wise to ingest and remember the earlier documentaries and documentarians when considering the work and photographers in DOCUMENT. Acknowledging the important endeavors that have come before, this exhibition respectfully offers up for consideration a new slate of regional photographers, methodologies, and projects. Borrowing a phrase from the prospectus of the NEA-funded “Boston Photo-Documentary Project” from the early 1980s of which PRC founder Chris Enos was a part, the photographers featured in DOCUMENT build upon this groundwork and equally serve as “historians of the present.”
DOCUMENT offers forth a wide swath of issues and approaches in an effort that more resembles a project room than a traditional gallery exhibition. This selection hopes to be a brief introduction to socially-oriented work and topics concerning Greater Boston today. It concentrates on people-based work and saves the natural and built environment for future consideration. Just as each selected topic differs, so does each photographers’ method. A number of photographers use one particular group or person to elaborate on issues that are specifically Boston-related, and others showcase issues that affect the whole nation through a local connection. Several photographers incorporate a significant amount of text and context; others aim for minimalism and overall aesthetic effect.
Together, the works and photographers in DOCUMENT share many key sensibilities and urges. Elements that unite the work are the photographers’ passionate involvement and relationships, often repeated and often long-term, with their topics and their subjects. Like any good social documentarian, their desires go beyond simply clicking the shutter, and it shows. Most of the projects were born out of a personal desire to know or experience more about a certain group or community matter. The projects are self-conscious and frequently self-funded. It is not surprising that many of the artists are highly involved with a whole host of activist, support, and charitable organizations.
Each of the photographers in DOCUMENT has expressed to me, on various occasions and in various ways, an assortment of sentiments beginning with the same verb: “remember….” Remember that these people are sharing their lives with us. Remember the issues behind the photos. I encourage you, as readers and viewers, to consider this advice as well. What do we take from this documentary encounter? What could or should we give back to the subjects? Inspired by the topics presented, we suggest “action steps” for each series. At the bottom of each wall text panel under the phrase “What can I do?” are three simple steps that you can take to make a difference and become more involved. Begin today.
Through the eyes and lenses of these artists and their distinctive interests, sensibilities, and methods, I hope a larger picture of Boston and some of the social issues before us at this particular time will come into focus.
- Leslie K. Brown, PRC Curator
Support for DOCUMENT was provided in part by Bee Digital and Zeff Photo Supply. The PRC is supported by Boston University and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, in addition to numerous individual and corporate contributors.