Documentary Photography

Documentary photography is a form and style of photography that aims to chronicle and capture real-life events, environments, and people in an objective and truthful manner. Unlike staged or posed photography, documentary photography seeks to observe and record life as it unfolds naturally. It is an essential medium for reporting world events, both big and small. Many photographers dedicate a lifetime of work focusing on particular issues such as war, protests, and social injustice, highlighting the impact they have on society.

Andrew Moore, a self-taught photographer, has focused his lens on societal issues in the UK and overseas since the 1980s. His work includes documenting campaigns for better social housing, protests in Handsworth, Birmingham in 1985, the Poll Tax riots in 1990, and the troubles in Northern Ireland.
Documentary photography of the Poll Tax Riot, Trafalgar Square, 1990.
Poll Tax Riots in Trafalgar Square, London, 1990.

Photo © Andrew Moore.

Everyday Life

British Culture Archive is a leading resource dedicated to British documentary photography. Our online galleries showcase the changes in society and culture throughout 20th century Britain and beyond. The photos range from the 1960s Mod Scene, Northern Soul, and Punk through to Thatcher’s Britain, Social Housing, Acid House and more.

Thomas Blower’s photographs document everyday life growing up in Greater Manchester during the 1970s. The images capture childhood freedom and life before the rapid rise of technology. A selection of Blower’s images were used to highlight the backdrop of Manchester during the late 1970s as part of the Use Hearing Protection Exhibition, which was held at the Science and Industry Museum.

Documentary photography of kids playing in Hattersley, Greater Manchester, 1977.
Hattersley Kids, Greater Manchester, 1978.

Photo © Thomas Blower / British Culture Archive.

Social Documentary Photography

Photographer Tish Murtha documented her home community of Elswick in the West End of Newcastle during the 1970s and 1980s. This period was characterised by significant social change, as mass de-industrialisation in the UK left many inner-city communities dealing with the social impact of job losses and lack of employment opportunities. 

Tish Murtha’s images of those on the margins of society challenged and documented the inequalities faced by working-class communities. In equal measures, they celebrated what it means to be working-class. Being part of the community she was documenting, Tish Murtha’s work is among some of the most empathetic and powerful examples of social documentary photography of the 20th century.

Documentary photographer Tish Murtha - Glenn In the Window - Youth Unemployment (1981)
Glenn in the window. From the series Youth Unemployment (1981).

Photo: Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, all rights reserved.