A Matter of Fact: The Rhetoric of Documentary 'Style'
National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford
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This book accompanies 'Fabula', an exhibition of contemporary photography and video art at the NMPFT. In 'Fabula', a new generation of international artists explored the conventions and ideas associated with the familiar world of the documentary image. The exhibition introduced a host of rogue elements to question the limitations of the document and how alternative conceptions of documentary within the visual arts can contribute to expanding documentary modes. 'Fabula', meaning 'story' or 'fable' in Latin, suggests that the fabulous qualities of storytelling are always at work, even in the supposedly factual realm of the documentary. The essay 'A Matter of Fact…' looked at the development of a rhetoric documentary 'style' in photography that was historical and linked to modernism through the photographs of Eugene Atget, Walker Evans and Mass-Observation, and not solely part of postmodern turn in photography. It looked at how re-construction, subjectivity, reflexivity and irony were knowingly present in the formative decades of documentary. Questions were raised about how contemporary exploration of documentary 'style' needed to be mindful of its playfulness if considered in relation to what were already expanded ideas of documentary in the 1930s in particular. Contemporary contrast was made with the work of Susan Meiselas with 'Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History' (1997) as an example of meaningful intervention that expanded documentary field through exhibition, the book and the Web. Artists included in FABULA: Todd Hido, Jenny Gage, Sharon Yaari, Matt Hulse, Jeanne Faust, Laure Provost and Christopher Stewart.
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