Documentary Art PDF
Written by Alejandro Malo   


There is an apparent contradiction amongst the documentary and artistic value of an art work. On one side, a photographic document aspires to be an instant’s testimony —or a series of instants in the case of an essay— with a location, characters and precise elements, that lead to an exact interpretation; and, on the other side it is accepted without further questioning that any work of art, mostly in the photographic field subsequent to twentieth century’s vanguards, must allow diverse interpretations that avoid it to be run down as a mere illustration or sample of technical mastery. If, besides what was previously said, we emphasize the distinction made by uncountable contests, as something almost obvious, among photojournalism and artistic photography, almost any attempt to conciliate both expressions seems destined to failure.


© Gerda Taro "A boy in an Iberian Anarchist Federation"


But there happen to be exhibitions where —in spaces destined to art— works resulting from a documentary task are praised. It would be enough to mention as examples, the multiple exhibits, in several continents, of Rober Capa’s work, Gerda Taro’s or Josef Koudelka’s; but more recent works can be highlighted, as the series belonging to Chien Chi-Chang, those of Manuel Rivera-Ortiz or the large-scale ones by Luc Delahaye. And it’s also worthwhile to point out that, in certain cases, due to time passing by, geographic remoteness or simply lack of context, a documental image transforms into a vaster image, where any war represents the violence and anguish of every war, hunger portrayed on a face gathers the forcefulness of all the famines, and a desolate sadness becomes each and every imaginable grief.


Is in this space where —a little like what Alejo Carpentier, Julio Cortázar and many other Magic Realism members did in literature— it is achieved that a precise expression manages, without leaving its particularity aside, to present universal concerns; and it is there where a document, without loosing a bit of accuracy, offers interpretations that are renewed with every look. But it is also fair by the searching of these spaces that we convene to a dialogue about the legitimate aspiration of any photodocumentalist to lay out a bridge towards art, and to reflect without prejudices on the possibilities of a shared territory.


© Chien-Chi Chang, China Town Series


Alejandro Malo

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