Maartje ven den Heuvel – Discussing Documentary

In her introduction the author describes how documentary film and photography, and viewers, have developed a more sophisticated visual literacy. This enables a more nuanced approach to imagery, so that film and photography no longer has to be overt in depicting the artists’ concerns.

In the next section she provides a brief history of the development of documentary art by describing two concurrent movements; Western ‘human interest’ and political expressionism from communist bloc countries. These two trends then led to documentary becoming identified with, in her term, ‘militant eye-witness’. This trend, from the inter-war years up until the 1970s, became synonymous with a socially conscious, liberal viewpoint that relied on the viewers’ trust that they were being presented with an accurate and objective viewpoint. B&W was accepted as being truer than colour, which had largely been confined to advertising and so was not afforded the same degree of trust.

From the 1970s onwards television began to replace photography as the means by which the public understood the wider world. This change has forced documentary artists to develop new means of depicting their concerns. Another factor was that documentary photography was increasingly being seen as art, so that the initial intention as objective reporting was becoming lost.

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