Documentary

Julian Stallabrass, Editor
Edited by Julian Stallabrass. MIT, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-262-51829-1
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This latest addition to the stellar Documents of Contemporary Art series offers varied assessments of the role of documentary and documentary traditions within contemporary art. Stallabrass (Art Incorporated) brings together critical essays, excerpts, and interviews, clustered primarily around the last 10 years (though occasionally reaching further back in time). The selections exhibit a sustained history of documentarians and photographers contending with the ethical and political implications of their work, the theoretical mapping at times looping productively back into itself. Some selections—among them Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes—are both familiar and freshly useful in the context of the book, while a range of contemporary writing on Abu Ghraib or recent atrocities in the Congo will be new to most readers. The project's breadth and the scattershot nature of the selections are sources of its most evident strengths and weaknesses: a lack of explicit connections and minimal editorial guidance allow the sometimes richly contradictory arguments to flourish beside one another, even as the structure itself might seem arbitrary and the ideas a bit muddled in their polyvocality. As an introduction to some of the most important thinking on documentary art, however, the book is a clear success, both encouraging discourse and pointing the way to further reading. (Mar.)
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