Unreal Nature

June 27, 2018

Our Contemporary Imaginative Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… The images presented here are deeply embedded in the fabric of our daily existence and an integral part of our contemporary imaginative life.

This is from the essay ‘The Creative Treatment of Narrative’ by Jan Baetens found in Theatres of the Real (2009). This book features the photographs of Sarah Dobai, Annabel Elgar, Tom Hunter, Sarah Pickering, Nigel Shafran, Clare Strand, Mitra Tabrizian, and Danny Treacy:

… Storytelling — the ‘creative treatment of actuality’ [John Grierson] — is no longer the ideal of contemporary documentary. From the works gathered in Theatres of the Real one might even infer that the narrative is seen as a menace to all serious intents of disclosing the real. For if narrative and storytelling help the spectator to make sense of the real, this sense is always biased, it reflects the strong editorial intervention of the maker and thus a veiling rather than an unveiling of reality.

[line break added] This deeply rooted distrust of narrative as an instrument of deception, manipulation, propaganda and spin-doctoring, is what bridges the gap between modernist and postmodernist forms of critical photography. What is different are the means that are used, what is similar is the goal. Modernist critical documentary, like the one illustrated by pioneers such as August Sander and Robert Capa, refused the crutch of storytelling in the hope of showing things as they were.

[line break added] Postmodern critical documentary, as showcased in Theatres of the Real, exhibits and even exaggerates all setting, staging, re-enactment and storytelling devices, but in the hope of short-circuiting them. Both strategies are of course utopian: modern critical photography can’t escape completely from storytelling, just as postmodern critical photography can’t block its narrative interpretations.

Next is from ‘Constructing the Real: Staged Photography and the Documentary Tradition’ by David Green in this same book:

… Much of the recent discussion concerning the staged photograph has tended to situate it in either of two ways: firstly, by privileging its art historical credentials through a comparison to a pictorial lineage within painting; or, secondly, via comparison to the myriad forms of contemporary photographic culture such as fashion or advertising but most especially cinema.

[line break added] Both are legitimate and highly productive ways of beginning to analyse the significant turn within contemporary fine art photographic practice towards the constructed image and may indeed be useful when applied to many of the works represented here. Yet within these domains the blurring of the boundaries between fact and fiction, between reality and artifice, between the authentic and the contrived, has never been problematic. The case of the relationship between the staged photograph and the documentary mode has historically been more complex.

… The reconstitution of the concerns of the documentary mode made possible through its re-contextualization in the domain of art may question the assumption of photography’s objectivity and with it a certain model of truth that it embodies, but it does not surrender its claims to address the world in which we live. The images presented here are deeply embedded in the fabric of our daily existence and an integral part of our contemporary imaginative life. Engaging with the narratives they tell is the prelude to forms of social agency that have always been central to the ambitions of documentary.

-Julie

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