The Documentary ImpulseStuart Franklin

Award-winning photographer Stuart Franklin's exploration of how we, as humans, are driven to visually document our experiences and the world around us.

Stuart Franklin took one of the most powerful photographs of the twentieth century - the 'tank man' in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, 1989. From his insightful position as a photographer, Franklin explores why we are driven to visually document our experiences and the world around us. He focuses on photography but traces this universal need through art, literature and science.

Looking at photojournalism, war photography and work recording our culture, Franklin identifies some of its driving impulses: curiosity, outrage, reform and ritual; the search for evidence, for beauty, for therapy; and the immortalization of memory.

As our understanding of 'documentary' continues to expand, Franklin considers photographic staging - where, perhaps, the future of the genre may lie: in search of truth over fact.

"This book traces what I shall call the documentary impulse. Here I mean the passion to record, with fidelity, the moments we experience and wish to preserve, the things we witness and might want to reform; or simply the people, places or things we find remarkable... Photography (and journalism) practised respectfully has the power to educate us all towards a greater understanding and empathy towards others." —Stuart Franklin


  • Format: Hardback
  • Size: 203 × 137 mm (8 × 5 3/8 in)
  • Pages: 216 pp
  • Illustrations: 35 illustrations
  • ISBN: 9780714870670

Stuart Franklin took one of the most powerful photographs in the history of the twentieth century - the 'tank man' - a lone man bringing to a halt a line of tanks entering Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in 1989. He is a member of Magnum Photos and was president of the agency from 2006-2009.

"The book serves not just as a history of documentary, but it also explores the psychological need that lies behind it... A volume that requires in-depth investigation and meditation, and is highly recommended." —Amateur Photographer

"It is rare that photographers [...] can write as well as Franklin does here... An excellent book to be read, re-read and savoured in the light of a rapidly changing world." —Black & White Photography

"There's no shortage of books about photojournalism. But when the man behind one of the most iconic images of the 20th century - the 'Tiananmen Square tank man – brings one out, it's something no one with an interest in the genre can afford to ignore." —Professional Photography

"An urgent outcry against the sidelining of photojournalism in favour of a surge in online snapshots... A timely book with an important message." —Aesthetica

"A readable, stimulating history of documentary images." —RPS (Royal Photographic Society) Journal