Documentary Photography as Public Service?

May 14th, 2015

Let’s switch the paradigm.

Is documentary photography public service?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about public service, public servants & the digital future.

As a professional documentary photographer, my job is to tell the story through images.

The Open Society Foundation defines this as “…follow(ing) a single topic or story in-depth over time, as opposed to photojournalism’s real-time coverage of breaking news and events.”

Its not just ‘a‘ narrative, but ‘the‘ narrative — speaking a truth as an event unfolds.

Sharing it with whomever willing to authentically consume its content.

In a digital age, photography has undergone a tremendous shift – remember Kodak?

Traditional photo business models have disappeared replaced with changing, adapting (if lucky) or simply dying new models – often low margin, high volume production (you hope), sometimes offshore, that appeal to masses.

This may increase technical perfection, but dilutes the soul & narrative.

Today documentary photography lives in the competitive 24 news and social media cycle where the consumption of images requires time, energy and faith.

Which brings me to public service.

As a senior public servant, my job is to speak truth to power.

I believed it joining Canada’s federal public service as a University of Ottawa MBA student in a faculty led by Dr. David Zussman & strategy guru Dr. Jean-Louis Schaan.

These guys challenged intellectually, pushing thinking outside the business & public service box, often simultaneously.

So after 3 central agencies (Treasury Board Secretariat, Department of Finance & the Privy Council office), 4 federal departments (Revenue Canada, Indian & Northern Affairs Canada, Fisheries & Oceans Canada & Natural Resources Canada), 1 arm’s length Agency (Northern Pipeline Agency as a COO & effectively as a Chief Digital Officer) & a former strategy practice at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, here’s my take.

Public service in an all-consuming digital age is just barely starting to understand the digital future beyond just serving the taxpayer online.

Or tweeting out a Ministerial press release.

How does digital impact speaking truth to power in public service?

Enable it? 

Or grow it?  

The point of this post.

Is documentary photography a public service?

You bet it is.

I just hope today’s federal public service remains the same.


vision | voice | visuals mine

Image – August 7, 2015 –  Master Corporal Jody Mitic stands in advance of the opening of the Richcraft Sensplex. He won the election as Ottawa Innes Council Ward Councilor. Decorated with the Sacrifice Medal after his legs were blown off while he was on patrol in Afghanistan in January 2007, Mitic returned home, helped to launch the Never Quit Foundation, raising awareness & money for wounded soldiers, police officers and medics. He ran after discussing with his wife, Alannah Gilmore, a Canadian Forces sergeant and battlefield medic who helped to save his life. Mitic & his brother Cory were fan favourites on CTV’s Amazing Race Canada, which had more than three million viewers per episode. They finished second. A father of two young girls, has been active in his community and spends his free time researching municipal issues.  Documentary photography in Canada.