Documentary photographers use the idea of proximity in their work. It gives their images a more personal feel, and it invites the viewer to see as they saw. These tend to be deeply personal projects, so proximity not only refers to how close the camera is to the subject but how close it makes us feel, heightening our sense of empathy.
I looked at the photographers Sian Davey and Matthew Finn. I based my choices on both their similarities and their contrasts. Both photographers documented someone very close to them; Sian Davey with her daughter born with downs syndrome, and Matt Finn with his mother, who later developed mixed dementia.
In Sian Davey’s work, ‘Looking for Alice,’ she exclusively used square format with colour. She based her series on her young daughter with downs syndrome, a condition Sian struggled to deal with, causing distance between them. Using her documentary-style photography, she developed a closeness with Alice and realised there was a love there.
This is a direct contrast to the work of Matt Finn, who photographed his mother for several years. In this case, the love between mother and son was always there, and it was always strong. In his work, titled ‘Mother,’ he uses black and white consistently. You can see his mother looking healthy and happy but progressively deteriorating to a point you can see the looks of confusion on her face due to her dementia.
Sian documented a daughter she didn’t know she could love and eventually realised her fears to be unfounded. Matt photographed a mother who always loved him, and he carried on his work, having to watch her condition worsen until she couldn’t remember him.
Both bodies of work are powerful with raw emotion, a feeling passed onto the viewer, especially in the images from Matt Finn. This effect is made more prominent due to the proximity of the images. Using a wide-angle lens, stepping away from the subject, would have caused us to feel disassociated from the images.