Constructing the Real: Staged Photography and the Documentary Tradition

David Green

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


The various senses of ‘theatricality’ as being artificial, affected and, ultimately, deceptive or false, seem to stand in direct contrast to photography’s claim to the values of realism and truth. Yet the act of staging people, objects and events for the camera has been an integral part of photography from its inception. This essay looks at the recent re-emergence of the use of strategies of the staged photograph within the domain of documentary practices. With reference to John Grierson’s promotion of documentary as ‘the creative treatment of actuality’, and Jeff Wall’s analysis of photo-conceptualism’s reworking of ‘art-photography-as-reportage’, it is argued that the repositioning of documentary photography into the domain of art has brought with it a new set of possibilities for new kinds of documentary practices specific to the gallery. In this context, the staged photograph, deemed illegitimate or inappropriate within the traditional confines of documentary, nonetheless offers itself as a suitable vehicle for documentary’s claims to address the world in which we live and to act as a prelude to forms of social agency.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTheatres of the Real
Place of PublicationBrighton/Antwerp
PublisherPhotoworks/Fotomuseum Provincie Antwerpen
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9781903796269
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009

Bibliographical note

The book, in which this essay appears, was published on the occasion of the exhibition 'Theatres of the Real' held at the Fotomuseum Antwerp, June-September 2009, and curated by David Green and Joanna Lowry.


  • photography
  • documentary
  • staged photography


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