JOSEPH ENTIN

As someone interested in and committed to the aesthetics of disruption and interruption, I applaud this manifesto. I tend to think of documentary as a problem, not a solution—a challenge of form and content. In thinking about what documentary can be, I would encourage a turn to Ernest Bloch, who wrote: “perhaps real reality is also an interruption.” If reality is an interruption rather than a smooth surface or ready-made narrative, how do we represent it? How do we represent it so as to challenge the ways that reality, filtered through the thick and all-too-often invisible lens of late capitalist culture, typically feels and looks? For inspiration, consider Allan Sekula’s Fish Story, which weaves together (among other things) art history, critical theory, and documentary photography to tell a tale of global maritime labor. Fish Story is a “story,” and it offers some grand conceptual gestures, but it underscores the gaps and lacunae that structure the project—the space in-between the secure shores of meaning as we have come to recognize it. It’s a book about the ocean that is itself about ideas and forms set adrift, migrating and in motion, rather than rooted securely in a set tradition or mode or genre. Fish Story is itself a fish tale—the “one that got away,” a text that defies closure and finality, even as it is deeply invested in tracing lines of power, in history and critical analysis. As I’ve argued elsewhere, Fish Story is structured by what Sekula called “sequential montage”—the stitching together of elements that never loses sight of its own contingency. Sekula followed Fish Story with a documentary film about oceanic transit and labor, The Forgotten Space, co-directed with Noel Burch, but it seems to me that still photography is crucial to Fish Story’s logics of interruptive and associative thinking. Isn’t the still photograph—which stops the flow of time by freezing an instant—itself an interruption? For Sekula, montage (the sequential linking together of disparate elements to expose new connections and disjunctures) is one vital principle for reconstructing a radical documentary—one that can tell stories, but stories that defy the kinds of comfort and closure we so often expect, or crave.

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