The olden days must have been a real drag.  Let’s be honest, if you had to hold still for two minutes every time you wanted to take a duck-face selfie; if you had to spend an hour mixing chemicals in a dark room just to announce to the world that you had avocado toast for brunch; if you had to cram your horse-drawn Photographic Van into your carry on luggage just so you could get the perfect waterfall time-lapse on your honeymoon in Iceland; then there is little chance that you would want to be a documentarian.  

Fortunately, it’s not the olden days. It’s the today days. The iPhones are taking over and even Granny hasn’t said, “I wish I brought my camera” in over five years. We’re in the age of listicles, memes and four thousand images consumed a day. It’s the era of instant gratification, globalization, social isolation, and a whole lot of other -ations (I highly recommend the vac- varietal). 

Although technology has turned the documentary world on its head, I believe that many of the most important documentary lessons remain unchanged. That’s because documentaries are defined by a process not by a product. Thus, even as production technology gets faster, cheaper, and more accessible everyday, the processes by which trust is built, humans connect, and stories are shared have not changed.

Below, I have assembled a list of individuals who have helped me to navigate the critical contradictions and considerations that will always remain embedded in documentary work–the tension between insiders and outsiders, subjects and documentarians, writing and photography, and journalism versus art.

I am including nine inspirations: two filmmakers, two photographers, two musicians, a satire writer, a sketch artist, and a freight train. Click on the titles below to explore. 

james’ doc-spiration list: