Documentary as a paradox

Let me start off with a quote from the reader that I love:

“A documentary (photograph, film) takes an audience to an existing or past reality and is so compelling that they can emphasise with mind, emotion and imagination. In that sense documentary is an ambitious , creative and critical enterprise.” (de Jong, Knudsen & Rothwell, 2011, p.23)

I have tried to find the article in Eight Magazine that is mentioned in the course, but unfortunately it is not online available. I am quite intrigued by the question whether photographs can efficiently document a process, since it ‘cannot explain, analyse or make a prognosis’ and concluding that despite its limitations it “can perform brilliantly: it can in influence human emotions” (Ph2 documentary 260313, no date).

Caution is always necessary when such grand statements are made. Looking at Krassowski’s work, I see that the main chunk of it is done on the streets. They do not seem to focus on a process, or a specific in-depth topic in the first place. Images taken on its own can indeed not show what happened before or after the photo was taken, but when in a series, or when information is added to the image by means of text and sound, I believe that they surely can document a process, explain issues or tell a story. By eliminating the portrayal of progression of time Krassowski points out that the human emotion is what is left and that is powerful enough. However, I don’t think it ends with that and it is not one thing or the other, an image can show a process and next to emotions.

Below are a few examples of photographs that I took last week in the center of Delhi. I was drawn by the expressions on the men’s faces. It is true that the images don’t tell about how and why the people ended up where they were, but they do trigger more than just an emotion. Because of the placement of the man in the frame you wonder how he ended there all on his own, why are the shutters closed and what is he doing there? All these questions don’t only trigger an emotion but also draws the viewer to ponder on the process of waiting and anticipation.

documentary paradox-2

In the image below we see a man standing still in a busy alley. The movement itself already triggers a sense of time and progression, not just the emotions that are triggered when being still in a place where everybody else is moving.

documentary paradox-1

Maybe it also goes back to the question of what is reality, a process or story? How do we perceive it, which other senses and parts of our understanding do we have to employ in order to grasp it fully, if we could do that at all anyway. And who is capable of deciding when we have been exposed to enough information to define what we see or understand?

Interesting, interesting!

Ph2 documentary 260313 (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 19 August 2016).

Krassowski, W. (no date) Home. Available at: (Accessed: 19 August 2016).


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