Object Documentary: The Ethics of the Documentary Encounter Reframed

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


This research explores the objectification of the real in the context of interdisciplinary documentary practices. The exploration is undertaken through historical theoretical research, through interviews, and through my practice as a filmmaker and film curator. The research outcome comprises a written thesis, a film, and two curatorial projects. The central concern is the objectification of the real. By this I mean, perceiving the ‘real’ as a material resource. When artists use the real as material, does it always amount to a negative form of objectification? I explore objectification as a mode of resistance, as a way of destabilising the documentary method itself, and argue for objectification as a critical aesthetic method.

The research context circles around the so-called documentary turn where critical debates on ‘truth’, power, and ethics have resurfaced since the mid-1990s. My approach throughout is to move away from dualist subject/object relational thinking. Instead, the research configures a theoretical field of thought and puts into practice a method that considers both the aesthetic potential and the ethical challenges of an object-to-object relation. Whilst the research derives some concepts from an intersection of materialist philosophies, its primary drive is to reframe documentary ethics. I position documentary films and their constituents as objects in order to examine the ethics of this approach. The analysis presented aims to show that the critical method of the works explored, in part, consists of soliciting an ethical response through the production of discomfort. I argue objectification is central to this method. By reframing the relationship between films, filmmakers, and film viewers, I come to define the role of documentary making and viewing, as creating spaces for self-interrogation through a shared modality I call omnidirectional responsibility. This responsibility is considered through an inter-objective sensibility. That is, the physical engagement with the material world as material.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Goldsmiths College, University of London
  • Wright, Chris, Advisor, External person
  • Dowmunt, Tony, Advisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date31 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

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