In Sanja Iveković’s Triangle (Trokut, 1979), four black-and-white photographs and written text capture an eighteen-minute performance from May 10, 1979. On that date, a motorcade carrying Josip Broz Tito, then president of Yugoslavia, drove through the streets of downtown Zagreb. As the President’s limousine passed beneath her apartment, Ivokevic began simulating masturbation on her balcony. Although she could not be seen from the street, she knew that the surveillance teams on the roofs of neighboring buildings would detect her presence.
After a long period in eclipse, documentary has undergone a marked revival in recent art. This has been spurred by two phenomena: the exhibition of photographic and video work on political issues at Documenta and numerous biennials; and increasing attention to issues of injustice, violence, and trauma in the war zones of the endemically conflict-ridden twenty-first century. The renewed attention to photography and video in the gallery and museum world has helped make documentary one of the most prominent modes of art-making today.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the artist Ed Ruscha created a series of small photo-conceptual artist’s books, among them Twentysix Gas Stations, Various Small Fires, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Thirtyfour Parking Lots, Real Estate Opportunities, and A Few Palm Trees. Featuring mundane subjects photographed prosaically, with idiosyncratically deadpan titles, these “small books” were sought after, collected, and loved by Ruscha’s fans and fellow artists.
In this compelling work, Ariella Azoulay reconsiders the political and ethical status of photography. Describing the power relations that sustain and make possible photographic meanings, Azoulay argues that anyone—even a stateless person—who addresses others through photographs or is addressed by photographs can become a member of the citizenry of photography. The civil contract of photography enables anyone to pursue political agency and resistance through photography.
What if Jacques Lacan--the brilliant and eccentric Parisian psychoanalyst--had worked as a police detective, applying his theories to solve crimes? This may conjure up a mental film clip starring Peter Sellers in a trench coat, but in Lacan at the Scene, Henry Bond makes a serious and provocative claim: that apparently impenetrable events of violent death can be more effectively unraveled with Lacan’s theory of psychoanalysis than with elaborate, technologically advanced forensic tools. Bond’s exposition on murder expands and develops a resolutely Žižekian approach.
In The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems (1974–1975) Martha Rosler bridged the concerns of conceptual art with those of political documentary. The work, a series of twenty-one black-and-white photographs, twenty-four text panels and three blank panels, embraces the codes of the photo-text experiments of the late 1960s and applies them to the social reality of New York’s Lower East Side. The prevailing critical view of The Bowery focuses on its implicit rejection, or critique, of established modes of documentary.
Camouflage is an adaptive logic of escape from photographic representation. In Hide and Seek, Hanna Rose Shell traces the evolution of camouflage as it developed in counterpoint to technological advances in photography, innovations in warfare, and as-yet-unsolved mysteries of natural history. Today camouflage is commonly thought of as a textile pattern of interlocking greens and browns.
Jeff Wall's Picture for Women (1979) marks the transition of photography as an art form from the printed page to the gallery wall. Before this, photographs—from the orthodox photographic work of Walker Evans to the Conceptual photography of Dan Graham—seemed intended for the page even when hung in a gallery. In Picture for Women, a woman looks outward, as if at the viewer; a camera occupies the center of the photograph; the photographer stands on the right.
When the real estate bust of the 1970s hit New York City, artists found their own mixed uses for the city’s run-down lofts, abandoned piers, vacant lots, and deserted streets, and photographers and filmmakers documented their work.