In 1979, Roland Barthes distinguished between two different approaches to photography – its taming through aesthetic categories such as authorship, oeuvre and genre, or its frenetic impact that he saw rooted in the »awakening of the intractable reality«. Twenty years on, photography, in particular, is discussed as a document able to re-evaluate the relationship between aesthetics and ethics.
In the publication of the exhibition at Museum Ludwig, Cologne, both considerations form the starting point for an exemplary presentation of historical lots of documentary photography that examine the aesthetic, ethical, performative and political references of an »intractable reality«; included are works by: Robert Adams, Derek Bennett, Joachim Brohm, David Goldblatt, Candida Höfer, Miyako Ishiuchi, Ute Klophaus, Karl C. Kugel, Boris Mikhailov, Gabriele and Helmut Nothhelfer, Thomas Ruff, Raghubir Singh.
The documentary attitude is not just discernable in the photographs, but also in their use. The following questions are therefore addressed to each photo series: Who took the pictures, when and where, on whose behalf, to whom are they addressed, where and how were they first released? And what ways of approaching photography can be determined at present?
With several introductory texts, the exhibition catalog presents leading photographic and documentary positions. Cross-references to history also reassess the actuality of current documentary photography and provide an important contribution to the debate on the documentary in general. With a comprehensive work-monographic bibliography it presents a means for further research.