Douglas Bienert Photography | documentary
20080830-014 20081231-058 20090514-021

Documentary and Editorial

The camera is my tool. Through it I give meaning to everyone around me." - Andre Kertesz.

Photography is the medium which changed the 20th Century. In1908 the photographs by Lewis Hine helped put an end to abusive child labour in The United States. Hine was a New York City schoolteacher and photographer who believed that a photograph could tell a powerful story. His passion to end the abuse of children as workers was so strong that he quit his teaching job and became an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. By 1916, Congress passed the Keating-Owens Act that established child labor standards. By 1920 the number of child laborers was cut to nearly half of what it had been in 1910. Hine himself died in poverty and temporary obscurity. His passion and his voice continue to speak through the photographic witness he left behind.

For over 150 years photographers have captured and masterfully printed evidence on paper of the beauty, desolation, and the change brought by the modern era.  There are nearly endless stories of lives and moments which would otherwise be forgotten. Photographs are icons, windows made of darkened glass, through which we peer obscurely into lives both past and present. Through them we may understand others and ourselves, their times and ours. Photography is an extraordinary art form which alone in all of human history can freeze a moment in time allowing us to ponder truth, beauty, and goodness.

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” -Dorothea Lang

I have developed a greater interest in documenting unusual civic events as well as telling stories with social significance. Significances in life which all people share are more often discovered in the ordinary rather than the spectacular.  

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”    -Elliott Erwitt

What is it that allows me to capture images the way I do? Perhaps it is my diminutive stature which allows me to go relatively unnoticed. Possibly it is my quiet way of working, observing, and waiting for the "decisive moment" which Henri Cartier-Bresson articulated so well verbally, which is evident throughout all of his photographs:

"To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression."

20080830-021 I cull the collection of photographs into a handful of images that not only best tell the story, but tells it as beautifully as possible. These are the precise  images I look for after the moments are captured. There is something profound to me about waiting for, and catching, that "decisive moment" when a person, a tree, the sunlight, a facial expression, and human action in a story all come together in the window of my viewfinder.


Polar Bear Swim.
Vancouver, British Columbia.

I discovered the annual New Years Day Polar Bear Swim while on vacation in Canada around 1998.  The Vancouver Polar Bear Swim Club is one of the largest and oldest Polar Bear Clubs in the world. Its initial swim was in 1920 when a small number of swimmers plunged into English Bay on New Year's Day. The swim has grown from around 10 swimmers in that year to the new record of 2,246 official entries set in 2011.

Thousands more show up to watch dressed in winter coats, dressed in drag or in animal costumes. One year I saw three drunk Teletubbies wadding waist deep in the frigid waters, whammed only by their enthusiasm and large cans of Molson. English Bay is filled with people of all ages and languages.  Once the horn sounds and the flag drops the frenzy begins as serious swimmers race to a buoy quite a distance from shore.  Within twenty minutes the shoreline is nearly empty of shivering participants. The last few minutes before and after the swim are the most enjoyable time to photograph. There is a camaraderie, anticipation, and a shared joy of being humanness that is evident in participants and spectators alike. This is an ongoing project which I look forward to returning to as often as possible. 


After School
Portland, Oregon

Text coming soon.