To point out the ways that ideas work subtly through the medium of documentary is not to foreclose the possibility that such photographs have many productive truths to share with us as historical documents. Such a critique should invite creative ways of reimagining the method or the various mediations involved in documentary photography so as to open up richer interpretations. FSA historian Nicholas Natanson points out that "as visual texts, as 'readable' documents, photographs are both supremely compelling and supremely slippery- emerging as odd syntheses of what has been captured by intention (the photographer's, often mixed with the subject's) and what has developed through serendipity, or through 'subliminal vision,' as photo-historian Richard Whelan calls it" (7). This vision of the process of documentary photography touches upon the degree of complicated and problematic collaboration going on between photographer and subject and emphasizes the subtle ways documentary can manipulate its viewers without making the leap to the determinist position that all documentary images emerge from a program of fixed ideology.




Juliet Gorman, May 2001