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Working in hypermedia with the documentary image


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There is no simple answer to the question, what is a documentary image? Working with non-fiction images can be a personal activity as much as a professional one, and the products range from home movies and scrapbooks to television news specials, from activist community film screenings to museum installations. Looking through a lens to view the world, the image-maker directs attention to the particulars contained inside the frame and offers a way of looking at the world by defining relationships. No film can be neutral nor perfect. There is always something left out, material inside the frame not focused or commented upon. As the anthropologist Clifford Geertz once wrote, "Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete. And, worse than that, the more deeply it goes the less complete it is" (Geertz 1973:29).

For an image-maker who seeks to go beyond the narrowing constraints of conventional narration, the process often involves maintaining some fluid relationship between images, text and sound that permits both differing constructions and avenues of critique. Usually the filmmaker and photographer are gathering material to describe, represent, or translate an experience as a writer might through language or a composer through music and recorded sounds. The internet and other digital media increase the interplay between such methods of representation, and meaning rests not only in the information each provides, but also in the act of bridging image, language and sound. The same can be said of scholarly disciplines such as anthropology and history, where lessons may be found in the process of crossing cultural and temporal divides as well as in the times and places being studied.

The three essays in this collection tackle issues of documentary representation through film, photography, and the digital arts. These three approaches to visual research and studies include a critical analysis, a fieldwork project from France, and an interactive web-cinema project based on original research in Ghana.

The sample below is from the second essay, "The Harvest", which combines a fifty-image photo essay about a wine harvest in Burgundy, France, with three sections of text. The format is designed to encourage the reader to move back and forth across the images as well as between the images, text and side materials. The format is apt for suggesting of the chronological sequence of the harvest. It is also apt as a means to express the perceptive and cognitive links made in the field, in research and in reading, when one begins to build connections across differing data sets -- to create the working metaphors and narratives that bind the fragments of experience into the sense of the whole.