Discussing Documentary–Maartje van de Heuvel

Exercise Read the introduction the the Essay “Mirror of Visual Culture” and make a summary.

Maartje van de Heuval raises several questions in this introduction:

  • Does documentary photography need to change to be accepted into the gallery?
  • Will it be able to function in its traditional communications role in this setting?
  • Can documentary images still be perceived as truthful when viewed as art?
  • Should the context of the photographic document be wider to reflect the increasing role of the media in the making and viewing of work?

She then discussed the role of the media in our understanding of the world around us and how increased visual literacy (which is not taught but absorbed by contact with the media) gives us a second hand view of the world, remote from our personal experiences and the effect this is having on the way in which artists create work dealing with the way images are handled in the media. (Visual Literacy: the ability to distinguish and interpret visible actions, objects and symbols in one’s surroundings and apply these to communication).

Next was a discussion of the traditional perception of the documentary and the “militant eye-witness” and how different artists freed themselves from the “human interest” tradition of Hine and Riis, later evolving into the left-wing activist’s tool for illustrating the class struggle. Along with this, the B&W, high contrast, coarse grained “of the moment” 35mm  images led an immediacy and reality.  Subsequent development and the influence of the TV’s presentation of reality, docu-drama, docu-soaps etc., further clouded the objectivity of the documentary image.

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