Martha Rosler
[Artist, b. 1943, Brooklyn, New York, lives in New York.]

 Documentary photography has been much more comfortable in the company of moralism than wedded to a rhetoric or programme of revolutionary politics. 
 The deskilling of photography takes place programmatically in conceptual art. It rejects all of modernist photographic aesthetics with a Duchampian approach, saying that a photograph is a mere indexical trace recorded by an optical chemical system. And if you take a photograph of a gas station, that is worth as much as everybody else being photographed on earth. 
 Any familiarity with photographic history shows that manipulation is integral to photography. 
 Documentary is a little like horror movies, putting a face on fear and transforming threat into fantasy, into imagery. One can handle imagery by leaving it behind. (It is them, not us.) 
 If we want to call up more hopeful or positive uses of manipulated images, we must choose images in which manipulation is itself apparent, not just as a form of artistic reflexivity but to make a larger point about the truth value of photographs and illusionistic elements in the surface of (and even definition of) reality. 
 Although there is nothing unprejudiced about any representation, in the modern era, attempts at a necessarily false objectivity in relation to meaning have periodically been made… Photography, dressed as science, has eased the path of this feigned innocence, for only photography might be taken as directly impressed by, literally formed by, its source. 
 It’s interesting that although the broader culture does still have room for documentary, it is becoming less transparent, less matter of advocacy, and more sensationalized or surrealistic, a kind of masquerade. I find that students have little interest in the concept of documentary as a moment of revelation in which real social relations are pictured; that’s totally flattened for them. They see the world as being made up of a vast sameness of interactions, basically rooted in the cash nexus. 
 I’ve written about documentaries as a dead form. But without some reference to the real, there’s no place of departure. 
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