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"In, around, and afterthoughts"

While first reading this article I found myself to be in complete opposition of Mr. Ward’s first disposition, towards the article. I was on the side of Martha Rosler. She had some good points that Jeff acknowledged, as well, but I could agree with her because I could not think of a way to prove her wrong, based upon my lack of knowledge of the history of documentary. Then again a few of her ideas rubbed me the wrong way and I could only try to reason why. There were times in this article when I wanted to rip my hair out, and there were times when reading that I understood what was going on. Here is what I came to understand before Tuesday’s class, even if now I feel slightly differently.

When reading “In, around, and afterthought? I noticed that Martha Rosler had a continuous theme of talking about the history of documentary compared to today’s version of documentary. Throughout the piece I picked up on the idea that Rosler did not want to discredit the photographer or the artist rather that she was putting out the idea of having the documentary in the first place. Rather within the piece she actually hints at reform within the documentary in order to suit the public, either being documented or the audience. She talks about people not caring about documentary and only reading them as a way to make themselves feel better about there own lives, which is shown when she says, “liberal documentary assuages any stirrings of conscience in its viewers the way scratching relieves and itch and simultaneously reassures them about their relative wealth and social position.? (pg 306/307)

I could believe and relate to this. I see ads for feed my starving children on television and I read about news stories of traumatic events, such as the flooding in southeast MN. These people could use my help, but I don’t do anything. At the age of 18 I am perfectly capable of trying to help these people, yet they don’t receive my help. It has to do with priorities; people don’t want to rearrange their schedules to help someone who they don’t know. However, the goal of writing anything of worth is to make people care, according to Rosler this is missing in Liberal documentary. She is saying that documentary needs to reform or leave.

However, I can also take another point of view; here Rosler’s logic is flawed. I see her article as a response to society’s ignorant repugnant self, who does not take into account any problems but their own. She is saying that documentary is useless because nothing comes of it, but it is not the fault of the artist, it is society that makes the documentary obsolete.

So on one hand it is the documentaries job to make the public care, but on the other hand, if the public refuses to care, what should be done with documentary? Or is the quarrel simply over the definition of documentary?

One point of interest in the article is when she talks about the subject in the documentary. She talks about the people being cheated, both by “betraying their own heritage,? (pg 310/311) and by the case of Florence Thompson.

First she talks about cultures being put into history. When cultures are documented she says that it continues “traditional racism? (pg 311). Parts of the culture are left behind because there is no way to represent everything about a group of people. But in doing this the culture is misrepresented just to get the attention of the public.

As far as Florence Thompson goes her story is sad. This quote really stood out in my mind, “That’s my picture hanging all over the world and I can’t get a penny out of it.?(pg 313) Is this right? Florence thought that by being photographed she would get some help to better her own life, but this never happened. Here I almost felt like Lange was the bully, and that's not right. (this shows how skewed this article is) People like her received some relief, but that probably doesn’t mean much to Thompson who had high hopes of getting some help herself. In documentary it is hard to help anyone if the documentary is not reaching the capable public.

It is also hard to completely trust what Rosler says because she is focusing on the ulterior motives of every person involved, in other words a pessimist. She focuses on the fame and fortune (“bedrock of financial gain? (pg 320/321)) aspect of the photographer, whether it is his/her goal or not (not, in the case of Gene Smith). She focuses on the subjects longing for individual attention, help, and money. And she focuses on the readers unresponsive, self praising tendencies. When she does not bring up the true goal of the artist her argument is skewed. She also does not bring up the amount of help the public does put in; in cases where charitable foundations are created and succeed, ex sunami. These articles do reach the public, just not the whole public, and she puts no mention of this in her piece.

I believe that Rosler sees a problem with society and she immediately associates it with documentary. Yet she only sees the problem because she is looking for it. The goal of documentary may not be to get help for others, but to inform in hope to get others to care about the topic.

By reading this article I am very confused by her interpretation of events, I can agree and disagree with her at the same time, which shows that her choice of argument is a good one, and well as complex. Before being able to understand this article one would have to have a grip of knowledge on the subject as well as an understanding of both sides. I do not have that much knowledge on the subject, which is why my position is somewhat of a volley in a match of wits.