The Art of Attention in Documentary Film and Werner Herzog

A1 Journal article (refereed)

Internal Authors/Editors

Publication Details

List of Authors: Antony Fredriksson
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Publication year: 2018
Journal: Film-Philosophy
Volume number: 22
Issue number: 1
Start page: 60
End page: 75


In this article I examine the role of attention as a defining aspect of
photography and documentary film. When we pay attention to how the world
looks it might sometimes surprise us. It might perhaps show us that we
are too set in our ways of seeing and that the world can reveal things
unknown, or as Stanley Cavell remarks: “how little we know about what
our relation to reality is, our complicity in it”. This is, I claim, the
task in which the documentary image can guide us. In order to arrive at
this conclusion I will start by examining how the documentary image
adheres to knowledge, without falling back on a generic epistemological
or representational framework. I start by discussing the final scene in
Werner Herzog's film Echoes from a Somber Empire (Echos aus einem düsteren Reich,
Werner Herzog, 1990) as an example of the aspect of documentary film,
that aids us in refraining from projecting our preconceptions on the
uncanny. I continue by discussing Nietzsche's understanding of knowledge
as a process of domestication and contrasting it with Merleau-Ponty's
and Bernhard Waldenfels's phenomenological account of perception, in
which the role of attention becomes paramount. This is an attempt to
show how the question – what makes the documentary image unique – is
entangled in epistemological questions concerning the relationship
between vision, image, self and object. A closer investigation of the
ambiguities inherent in the concept of “documentary” reveals something
important concerning how the unknown becomes known.


attention, Documentary film, philosophy of art, Werner Herzog


Last updated on 2020-23-01 at 04:28