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Go Play Outside! Problematising the Notion of the Documentary What the Hell is Documentary?

The documentary is a hybrid form of expression with many faces. As a genre, it lacks a fundamental set of axioms that separate it from other visual practices. The power of the documentary is that it can re-invent itself time and again by merging with other visual or representational strategies: fictional film, journalism, politics, science, art, et cetera. The documentary behaves like a metal ball in a pinball machine: each collision with an institution, art form or cultural movement redefines its reason for existence. onse!uently, whether we call a certain representation "documentary# actually depends on the time and place. The documentary has an endless capacity to adapt itself to ever-changing social circumstances. $owever, like a chameleon, the documentary genre is not completely amorphous. %ts most important characteristic is its orientation towards the outside world, its openness. A documentary maker doesn#t retire to his studio, but immerses himself in the hustle and bustle outside. $e examines the world in which we live, searching for inade!uacies, hunting for social injustice, and revealing power relations. $e demonstrates the universality of what appears to be private and trivial, he alienates us from what we regard as "normal#, he shows us the beauty of what we might otherwise overlook, and he studies and uncovers the way in which other representational strategies limit the world of our experience into narrow clich& images. %n short, the documentary maker increases our sensitivity to the infinite magnificence, horror, complexity, significance, conse!uences and resources of what we call 'for the sake of convenience( "reality#. )ood documentary makers do more than just represent reality* they "animate# it. They don#t make a film about reality, but by means of reality, looking for a confrontation with the outside world that "opens up# its endless mystery. %n this way, a documentary maker is the opposite of an artist who locks himself up in an attic room. +ocumentary makers feel an uncontrollable urge to "play outside#. ,sing well thought-out strategies, they face up to the unpredictable forces of reality and try to reveal a hidden perspective. +ocumentary makers go out into the world and bump into reality. -ome may do so harshly, others gently. -ome make a big fuss, while others stay invisible like a fly on the wall. %n any case, their "big bang# creates a piece of reality we have never seen before.

An (Im ossible! "artogra hy of the Documentary #andsca e $rom Hunters to %ssayists .e will identify four documentary "fields# as well as nine documentary strategies. %t#s important to realise that these are prototypes. Theoretically, it is possible to divide the extensive documentary territory into neatly defined categories, but in practice, documentaries are far more difficult to pigeonhole. /f course, the fields and strategies described below are theoretical constructs that will not be able to "tame# the ever-moving reality of the documentary. As is true for all models, they never actually occur in their archetypal form. The documentary discourse remains heterogeneous, and its practice will always be ahead of its theory. The documentary landscape can be mapped out only for the time being. There will always be new films and photos that will plough up the territory and call for an adjustment 'or rejection( of its theoretical map. -till, documentary authors cannot do without theory or tradition either. They would never be able to renew the documentary territory without it. /nly magicians can turn nothing into something* artists need a little bit more to go by. They have to base their work on the past 'even though they want to react against it(, as they need to search history for tactics, techni!ues and material they can use as well as for those they wish to criticise and eradicate. The theory and history of the documentary cover an endless reservoir of visual codes, styles, viewing expectations, rules, conventions and approaches to reality of which you, as a documentary artist, will have the free disposal. +uring your search for a personal strategy, you are not supposed to simply reproduce or execute the documentary tactics described, because that would only result in empty imitations. /n the contrary, little by little, you should develop your own documentary "handwriting# out of a continuous interaction with the documentary fields and strategies discussed. 0or each strategy, % mention a couple of photographers and film makers who have used it in their work. $owever, if you take a close look at their work, you will see that they incorporate various elements of different strategies and that their authorship is influenced by various bits of tradition, which they have slowly forged into their own uni!ue strategy and their e!ually original photos and films. &' (he Ob)ecti*ists /bjectivists are the kind of documentary makers who try to come as close to authentic reality as possible with their photos and films, even though they know
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this is impossible. To achieve their aim, they try to repress their own subjectivity. They want to approach reality from a neutral point of view* their observations should be devoid of prejudice and as objective as possible. They want to perceive the world as though they#ve opened their eyes for the first time, and are always searching for an innocent perspective that reveals reality naturally, "as it is#. 2ven though all objectivists aim for authenticity, they may address a great variety of subjects. 0or example, some objectivists will explore the autonomous beauty of reality, some want to show the authenticity of "The /ther#, and some see it as their task to expose social injustice in an impartial way. &'& (he Hunter The hunter is the type of documentary artist who pursues the fleetingness of reality rather obsessively. $e hunts for the one uni!ue picture that will uncover the essence of reality, even though he#s aware of the fact that the world changes every moment and consists of endless meanings. $e knows he will always be too late to capture the mystery 3 at most, he can unveil a passing detail. And yet, the hunter keeps hunting the right moment, that one split second in which the whole universe manifests itself. $e combs the streets of big cities, roams over the countryside, and scours industrial 4ones and no man#s land. To capture that crucial millisecond, he acts on his instincts and intuition. 0or the hunter, shooting a film and taking pictures are activities of an animal nature* the camera is his second skin. $e steals up on his prey and entraps it in his frame. The hunter#s documentary strategy involves the paradox of chasing reality and knowing that it will always elude the eye of his camera. Through his lens, he shoots at the world and tries to strike it in the heart, though he knows it is without beginning or end. $unting photographers: +r. 2rich -alomon, $enri artier-5resson, )ary .inogrand, .eegee, 2dwin -mulders $unting film makers: +4iga 6ertov, 7onas 8ekas &'+ (he Obser*er The observer#s documentary strategy is founded on "non-interference#. $e observes the autonomous experiment of reality without directing it, just like a physicist can#t disrupt an experiment or interfere with the fundamental laws of nature. The observer will do anything to capture reality as it is. $e aims for pure and innocent truth, reality#s ultra-complicated process of cause and effect, its "behaviour# that would have taken place just the same if the camera hadn#t been
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there to record it. To attain the highest level of realistic simplicity, the observer imposes rules on himself: he is prohibited to manipulate reality, to add music, interviews, voice-overs or rhetorical editing tricks:actually, he is not even allowed to film, because by filming he might influence his subject and detract from its authenticity. The observer uses a paradoxical documentary strategy: he wants to be invisible, to have no impact on what he films or photographs, but at the same time, the presence of his camera affects reality in an unpredictable way. The observer wants to work without form, to cancel out his own presence and reduce his artistic choices to a minimum, but he cannot get round the fact that operating a camera, pushing a button, framing an image and deciding on the length of a shot irrevocably interfere with the na;vet& of reality. As a result, the observer operates within an existential field of tension between non-interference and interference, between innocence and staged innocence. /bserving photographers: $ans Aarsman, 5ernd < $illa 5echer, Thomas -truth, $ans 2ijkelboom /bserving film makers: =aymond +epardon, 0rederick .iseman, +onn >ennebaker, =ichard ?eacock, Albert < +avid 8aysles +' (he ,ub)ecti*ists %n contrast to the objectivists, subjectivists don#t explore reality starting from a self-imposed tabula rasa 'clean slate( at all, but from their personal experiences, thoughts, emotions and actions instead. They are not so much looking to find authenticity in reality, but use their own authenticity to give colour to the world. %nstead of being interested in the truth of the outside world, they employ the truth of their own nature to put a spell on it. They put their own ideas first and regard reality as a toolbox for designing a personal statement. Therefore, subjectivists often operate on the verge of fact and fiction. They assemble bits of reality and shape them into a specific opinion about the world. =evealing the endless potential, power and significance that lie hidden in the outside world, they intensify our experience of reality. +'& (he Poet The documentary strategy of the poet is the most similar to the method of the "old-fashioned# =omantic artist. The poet wants to uncover the masterly abundance of reality, its constant, profound, wild and sometimes dangerous and frightful beauty. Art, according to him, is a way to enchant, to reveal the splendour, pathos and tragedy of reality. The poet perceives something special and unusual in everything, showing us that even the most trivial and
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commonplace bit of reality has boundless dramatic potential. 0or him, art is a survival mechanism, a way to rise above the paleness of the world through the magic of composition, line, assembly, slow motion, and varied shutter time. $e wants to create an autonomous image that transcends the senselessness of unadorned, chaotic reality. 0or the poet, art is a source of comfort, a way to elevate the meaninglessness of a fleeting reality to an eternal and individual image, a picture that doesn#t need anyone or anything, a representation that defines its own raison d#Atre and imposes it on the world. >oetic photographers: Ansel Adams, 7ohan van der Beuken, 8ario )iacomelli, 2d van der 2lsken, =inko Bawauchi, ?uigi )hirri >oetic film makers: 6ictor Bossakovsky, .alter =uttmann, 7onathan aouette, -tan 5rakhage +'+ (he %ssayist A literary essayist is a "thinking writer# who examines the clash between his subjective mind and reality#s objectivity. %n this confrontation, he drafts up an original angle on the outside world and reveals its hidden dimensions through a winding path of creative thinking. A similar strategy may be used by documentary photographers and film makers. A good essayist documentary maker turns the world of his experience inside out 3 until he can feel the outside world in his very pores 3 and tries to keep himself and his camera standing in the stormy confrontation between experience and objectivity, between inside and outside. The essayist shoots his films or photos on the thin line of demarcation between those spheres, almost groping in the dark. ,ltimately, the essayist doesn#t want to expose reality, but to keep analysing it until he knows how he feels about it. There is an essential difference between a propagandist and an essayist. A propagandist already knows exactly which statement he wants to make before he starts filming or taking pictures* an essayist finds out only after thorough investigation. A propagandist simulates an alarming, coincidental confrontation with the world, when in fact he has made sure he will put his message across as convincingly as possible. The propagandist gives his audience the impression that he tells The Truth, while he is actually constructing a subjective and sometimes even fictional illusion of truth. The essayist, however, exposes himself to the unpredictable world and tries to form an opinion about it. The propagandist controls, while the essayist examines 'without knowing the outcome(. %n the end, the film or series of photos of the essayist does not only present his conclusion but also the struggle and variegated thought process of how he got to it.

2ssayist photographers: =obert 0rank, .olfgang Tillmans, >aulien /ltheten 2ssayist film makers: Alain =esnais, 7ean ?uc )odard, .erner $er4og -' .et/een Ob)ecti*ism and ,ub)ecti*ism 8any documentary photographers and film makers use strategies that have both objectivist and subjectivist aspects. %t is often difficult to make a distinction between what exactly originates from their uni!ue experience and what has a more objective basis. This does not mean their strategies are vague, but merely that they examine and convey reality in a way that is neither strictly objective nor strictly subjective. -'& (he Pro*o0er The essence of the provoker#s strategy is the explicit and purposeful provocation of reality, eliciting a provocative, shocking, painful and often also hidden or secret statement. The provoker uses his camera to tease, harass and cause trouble. ?ike the hunter, the provoker uses his lens as a weapon: not in order to determine reality, but to agitate it. The provoker puts its lens in "other people#s business#* he creates a significant, revealing "situation# by disrupting reality as it is and "stirring it up# with his camera until a hidden aspect of reality comes to the surface. The provoker is convinced that reality, like a human being, will show its true character, its innermost nature, in the moment of provocation, when it#s stuck for an answer, when it removes its mask and looks for a new cover, a new layer of varnish to cover the emptiness and pointlessness. 0or the provoker, reality is role-play. >rovoking photographers: =ineke +ijkstra, -ophie alle, Araki, orinne +ay, ?arry larke, =ichard Avedon, 5ruce )ilden >rovoking film makers: laude ?an4mann, Dick 5roomfield, 0rans 5romet, 7ean =ouch, 8ichael 8oore -'+ (he Acti*ist %n the work of the activist, everything is about "commitment#. The activist believes the world can be changed in a positive way, and that through his photography or films, he can make the world a better place. 0or the activist, the apparently straightforward process of watching, recording and taking pictures in itself is already a way of demonstrating political commitment. Taking a picture or shooting a film is not an innocent pastime, neutral recording or noncommittal entertainment, but a purposeful and, to a certain extent, verifiable intervention that transforms reality permanently, an act of involvement that changes the
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world forever. =ealising that each shot of his camera may change the face of reality, he tries to bend it to his will. The activist is an idealist. $e wants to create an image of a perfect world, which reality has to catch up with. As he works to fill the gap between the ideal and the real world, he may either choose to expose its shortcomings so they can be "fixed#, or choose to impose his visual utopia on the world in order to stimulate people to change the miserable circumstances they live in and concreti4e the 'ideal( reality presented. The former kind of activist is similar to an objectivist in the way he exposes social injustice. %n the most objective way possible, he shows how people are being marginalised or sacrificed. $e uses the objectifying power of his camera to strip the naked and dreadful truth of a thick layer of false images: the ideologically coloured "discourse# of, for instance, sweet-talking politicians, photoshopped policy documents and romantic movies, which all try to veil or put a gloss on social injustice. $owever, if an activist detaches himself from reality and chooses instead to conjure up a perfect vision for the future, he is more similar to a subjectivist. -uch an activist works according to his individual political opinion and tries to express it visually. The subjectivist activist does exactly what his objectivist colleagues detest: he ideologises and embellishes the truth, showing what the world should look like instead of the way it actually looks. The subjectivist activist becomes a propagandist if he sells his utopia as if it were a natural, objective and "real# state of affairs, an actual reality that will come into being after it has been purified of undesirables 'immigrants, 7ews, disabled people, et cetera(. Activist photographers: .illiam 2ugene -mith, ?ewis $ine, Allan -ekula, Ad van +enderen, $annes .allrafen, Boen .essing, )eert van Besteren, 8artha =osler Activist film makers: 8ichael 8oore, 7oris %vens, ,lrich -eidl, 2rik )andini -'- (he Anthro ologist The anthropologist#s main subject is "The /ther#: a foreign culture or a subculture in the society in which he lives 'skaters, hooligans, prostitutes, bureaucrats, et cetera(. The anthropologist asks himself how he can get to know what is completely unknown to him from his highly personal, subjective point of view. $e wants to accept The /ther as heFsheFit is, to portray it objectively and without prejudice, but he knows this is almost impossible to do. Therefore, every anthropologist develops a personal authenticity strategy, a way to treat the unfamiliar with respect. -ome anthropologists try to "switch off# their own system of values and standards, for example by immersing themselves in a foreign culture for a long period of time and giving an account of it from within.
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These anthropologists are objectivists: they try to annihilate their own subjectivity, hoping that behind every "stained#, subjective point of view, lies an innocent and truthful perspective of The /ther. onversely, other kinds of anthropologists claim that such an immaculate perspective is impossible* even the mere attempt to find it is deceptive. They are in favour of portraying The /ther in a subjective encounter, in the moment in which the film maker bumps into the unknown. 0or them, the unexpected and unpredictable circumstances such an encounter brings about, is the most accurate way for a documentary maker to capture a foreign culture. /ther anthropologists develop a reflexive authenticity strategy: they constantly try to give The /ther as well as the viewer insight into the way The /ther is portrayed, keeping a public journal, as it were, of their procedure. Though many anthropologists prefer to separate their films or pictures from references to their method, reflexive anthropologists prefer to show both The /ther and the way The /ther is being "framed# in his film or photographs. The underlying idea is that The /ther will be aware of the way itFheFshe is being "translated# and that viewers will understand how their view 'of The /ther( is being manipulated. Anthropologist photographers: 2d van der 2lsken, 2dward urtis, +avid Deel, +ana ?ixenberg, 8artin >arr, -usan 8eiselas Anthropologist film makers: =obert 0laherty, =obert )ardner, 7ean =ouch, 5ob onnoly, -teve 7ames, %saac 7ulien, +avid en 7udith 8ac+ougall 1' (he 2efle3i*ists .ith their photos and films, reflexivists do not only examine reality, but also the way in which reality is being "negotiated# by various media. They think that what we call reality is brought about only through a confrontation with the media. They do not claim that reality doesn#t exist or that it only "happens# in our minds, but they do believe reality is without meaning as long as it isn#t activated by a certain medium 'our eyes, a camera, a satellite, et cetera(. Think of a flying helicopter that shines its searchlight in the pitch-black night: only the parts of the world that are illuminated by the beams of the searchlight are visible. According to the reflexivists, this is exactly the way things work in the real world: paradoxically enough, reality comes into being only when seen through a focused eye. This complicated process of creating meaning is what reflexivists are interested in: they examine how various effects and experiences are construed. Their photos and films do not only make a statement about reality, but also explore the significance and effects of photography and film in general.

1'& (he 4eta5artist The meta-artist invents a reflexive visual language that deconstructs existing visual practices 'the classical documentary, the fiction film, the news, advertisements, et cetera(, revealing the way they work, their powers as well as their limitations. /r, more simply put: the meta-artist takes photographs about photography and makes films about film. $e looks at how film and photography organise, corner, stereotype and interpret the outside world. $e makes us aware of the codes, conventions, assertions, rhetoric and authority of the existing photographical and cinematic language. $e is especially focused on the power of visual practices to set standards. After all, images have the special power to act as a standard or an ideal. They tell us what we are or aren#t allowed to do and who we have to be. %n a more or less subtle way, images manipulate our identity. The meta-artist wants to unmask this process: through the use of pictures, he wants to make us aware of their power to manipulate. As a result, a good reflexive film or photo calls our perception into !uestion and shows that the act of looking at something is never innocent or na;ve, but always inclusive as well as exclusive, creative as well as repressive. =eflexive photographers: 8artha =osler, 2d =uscha, 2dwin Iwakman, 7eff .all, 7uul $ondius, -ophie alle, 8artine -tig, 5roomberg < hanarin, indy -herman =eflexive film makers: ?uis 5unuel, 7ohan )rimonpre4, 7ean ?uc )odard, %saac 7ulien, hris 8arker, +4iga 6ertov 1'+ (he "ollector The collector#s is another paradoxical documentary strategy: he is the photographer or film maker without a camera. Jou will never see a collector shoot his own picture or film, but you will find him in all kinds of places, looking for pictures that were made by others. %n the street, he might look for thrown-away postcards* in archives, he might hunt for dusty, yellowed and forgotten photos* in the attic, he might rummage through albums of family snapshots or become fascinated by the amateurish aesthetics of home videos. $e even plunders professional image archives and searches the %nternet for advertisement photos, pornography, war photo#s, landscape pictures, sunsets, party pics, et cetera. The first thing a collector does is catalogue and classify our visual culture, giving some structure to the jungle of images that is poured out over the world on a daily basis. $is next task is to expose the effects of our visual culture. %n this regard, the meta-artist and collector are very much alike. They are both
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interested in what a picture actually is, what it represents and how it functions in society. %n order to find out, the collector "re-contextualises# the pictures he comes across: he extracts them from their original setting and assembles them into a new visual reality. 2diting is the most important instrument of the collector: through editing, he draws attention to the potential of "found footage#, playing an often humorous as well as disturbing game with a picture#s connotations. $e lets them clash with different contexts and by doing so, reveals how their meaning is construed. The collector wants to demonstrate that an isolated picture doesn#t mean anything. According to him, meaning arises only when a picture is put into a larger framework and a certain amount of tension is created between different images or between an image and its context. ollecting photographers: 7oachim -chmid, 2rik Bessels, 8auri4io attelan < >aola 8anfrin, $ans->eter 0eldmann, >eter >iller ollecting film makers: >&ter 0orgLcs6 >eter +elpeut, 8artijn $endriks

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