233 | The responsibility of a documentarian

Mitchel Lensink
Aug 21, 2021
2 min read

Okay this is going to sound a little pretentious (or maybe even a lot) but as of late I’m starting to see myself more and more as a documentarian. A person who’s job it is to document and register for times to come. A person who preserves the future for the present (not coincidentally that’s how I’ve currently formulated my mission statement). I don’t claim to be any good at it (yet) but I do aim to have this be the way I leave my mark on the world. Perhaps that isn’t much, but it’s honest work. That’s also worth something in my eyes.

With viewing yourself as a documentarian comes the responsibility to document. Which means going out when it matters, even on days when you don’t necessarily feel like it. It means being present, aware and in tune with the moment and it’s greater sociological picture. Well, at least that’s what it means for me. And that makes a lot of sense too, considering I studied social sciences and have had a lingering interest on the matter for a while now. Combining that interest with my photography is a new development but one that feels correct.

Just today, for example, I attended my first ever protest (demonstration? gathering? party?); Unmute Us. A protest from the festival organizers in this country to push the government to allow the organization of events again starting September 1st. Normally I wouldn’t be drawn to protests as I believe people usually are a little too opinionated anyway but in this case it made sense for me. I had plans to document the efflorescing summer anyway, which sadly didn’t happen so far. This protest is an important element in that developing story. Of course I should be there to point my camera at it.

Which brings me to my final point. I can’t document it all. I can’t be everywhere at the same time and therefore I have to make choices. The responsibility of a documentarian is not just to document what he sees. It is also to be selective in the things he documents. While it’s a goal to be as objective as possible, you will always shine your light in a particular way. That’s why it’s important to focus on things that resonate with you. Things you have sufficient knowledge about that allow you to shine your light in a proper manner. I can’t go to a place that I have no knowledge about and claim to document its essence. I can only do that when I know a little background story.

The above does not mean I can’t document things I don’t necessarily agree with on a personal level. My personal views should never matter when documenting the world. A pure registration is the goal and that’s only possible when you understand the significance of events, not just when you agree with them. So moving forward I’ll try to listen to my responsibility and really start building this archive. Sincerely hoping I will one day serve somebody or something with the images I now make.

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