For the documentary photography Festival Dutch Doc Days, Utrecht (2011) I developed the theme:
To Be Continued [a plea for a longer view]
Our media-saturated society has a growing need for a visual form of ‘onthaasting’, that great Dutch coinage for the deliberate decision to lead life at a slower pace. The more insistently the packed visual culture impresses itself on us, the more it seems image-makers try to compensate for the disrupted balance by aiming for greater depth. Under the general heading of To Be Continued, lectures, debates, workshops and small-scale exhibitions explore ways in which photographic instruments and documentary strategies can be deployed to slow down our view of reality and to prolong our attention for a given subject.
‘Slow journalism’ is a growing trend among photojournalists. It involves focusing on long-term projects that frequently involve a strong personal commitment and steer clear of passing fashions. This tendency can be construed as the counterpart of the phenomenon that nowadays, wherever you are there is always someone documenting interesting or photogenic news, in images that are placed online and disseminated almost instantaneously.
Since this form of ‘user generated content’ is steadily gaining ground, reportage photographers are more or less compelled to go in search of the background events behind the news – all the more so, because moving images and online reports have now taken the lead in virtually all the information media. In practice, this means that many photographers are now tending to upgrade the time factor and to follow a subject of their own choice at regular intervals for an extended period of time.
To Be Continued obviously echoes the promise of new instalments from the world of TV and film series. Documentary photographers increasingly believe that a project should not seek to be a one-off, self-contained event. Instead, they opt to revisit a (pre-documented) subject in a sequel or to create a new sequence in follow-ups after set periods of time. This makes it possible to distinguish ‘the documentary truth of the past’ from ‘the documentary truth of today’. Since the differences between past and present may be significant, this approach may yield surprising conclusions about intervening developments and transformations. Documentary makers are attracted to this method because sequels enable them to provide a more reliable and comprehensive picture of a subject than a single project. This mindset comes from the higher value we now place on the merging of past and present: the current trend is to highlight the way they are related by retrieving the documented past and bringing it meticulously up to date.
This raises the question of how modern technologies may contribute to this process. A key development here is the concept of ‘augmented reality’, with ‘apps’ on smart phones enabling us to merge the physical and virtual worlds. An app for ‘revisitations’ makes it possible to merge past and present seamlessly.
To Be Continued highlights a method that has now become a permanent fixture of documentary photography. More importantly, however, it is a plea for a new approach, in which the sequel or follow-up strategy constitutes the primary beacon of continuity in documentary reality.
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