The Art of Attention in Documentary Film and Werner Herzog

Antony Fredriksson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
45 Downloads (Pure)


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.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)60–75
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • philosophy of art
  • Documentary film
  • attention
  • Werner Herzog

Cite this