Documentary and The Evidentiary

Photographs do more than redefine
the stuff of ordinary experience.
…Reality as such is redefined.

Susan Sontag

The objective of the work is to challenge the myth within the documentary tradition that knowledge of the world is somehow transparently revealed by the photographic image, and that the photographer exposes some reality that is evidential, unmediated, and ahistoric. And more generally, the realist’s epistemological assumptions of representation, that the image imparts some epistemological truth of a pre-imaged reality, and the metaphysical certainties of that representation.

The ‘measuring device’ employed in the work is not an attempt to reform photographic language, or to present some kind of evidentiary truth. Rather, it is a tactic to take photographic practice out of the epistemological speculations of a realism (i.e. Documentary) that sees the pre-photographic ‘real’ as something that is given and neutral, and to its uses within the discursive practices of that mode of representation; to situate its use within a system of representation, to act as a kind of caption¹. It functions as a self-reflexive mechanism; interfering with, impeding, frustrating the viewer's desire to perceive what is imaged as some truth unknown to them that is somehow artistically revealed by the photographer.

Although meaning is there, as in the “Packaged Health” series where the packaging of ‘health’ is evidenced, the interference of the ‘measuring device’ shifts meaning from an interpretive, idealist conceptualization of the image to a more explanative, realist conceptualization of the image, in other words, a less metaphysical conceptualization. And by not resorting to the interpretive, mystified view of meaning, it interferes with the viewer’s search for new ‘meanings’, for a “new” mode of representation — it becomes not a question of how is ‘knowledge of the world’ acquired by the photographic image, but how is ‘knowledge of the world’ produced by the photographic image.

1. Walter Benjamin, A Short History of Photography
“…must we not also count as illiterate the photographer who cannot read his own pictures? Will not the caption become the most important component of the shot?” [emphasis mine]