Tamara Hastie
Tamara Hastie Artist & Photographer

A simple blog containing photography, videos, and creative media by Tamara Hastie.

A simple blog containing photography, videos, and creative media by Tamara Hastie of rock climbing, portraits, HD video, and other various forms of mixed media.

Stubborn Subjectivity...

Doing Documentary Work, R. Cole


Apply this to Evan's and Agee's Let's Praise Famous Men....1936

if you don't know the book or anything about these amazing individuals do so here:



Robert Coles is right. In the Introduction of the Doing Documentary Work, by Robert Coles, decides to use the legendary book by co-author, photographer and documentarian James Agee, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”.  R. Coles is trying to obtain an understanding where the documentarian's struggle is to be one who is on the outside looking into other lives, and documenting it without bias. Impossible. There is no doubt that our entire lives and experiences, our parents and their parents lives and experiences are all brought to the table in our actions and decisions in everyday life, especially in how we interact with others while documenting and recording them. There is no avoiding this situation. We are who we are and that is the perspective we see, no matter how unbiased, or equal-handed we think we are.

As R. Coles stated “the search for objectivity waylaid by a stubborn subjectivity” has much validity and truth. In everybody's lives we have the stories that we refer back to and the feelings that coincide hand-in-hand with these stories, we can’t help but compare them unconsciously. We will bring these feelings into our work, it is a certain fact. We cannot avoid our personal interjections and slanted insight and place it into others lives. We see the story through our eyes regardless of the “idea” or “subject” were are trying to convey through our documentation. When R. Coles refers to J. Agee’s book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” we are confronted with this “warped” sense of the story, due to the caution and unfledged writings of the storyteller.  Even though the story is “true” in every sense of the word, but only “true” in the sense of how the author “sees” it as authentic. “Was he frivolously, self-indulgently carried away, hence this book with all its rage as well as its penetrating, large-minded lyricism?” Are we just listening to the song and dance, or do we fully understand where the rhythm and lyrics came from? Do we really know who J. Agee is, what his background is, where and how he was raised to fully understand his fact? These are all details where the reader of a book or spectator of any film needs to take in consideration when reflecting on its essence, and constituents . “Each of us brings, finally, a particular life to the others who are being observed in documentary work, and so to some degree, each of us will engage with those other differently, carrying back from such engagement our own version of them.”

J. Agee reminds us that he is a photographer, to document a particular time and space on the edge of wanting more of a story. In the Chapter “Near the Church," he casually places his feelings and perceptions into the negro’s mindset with no concrete evidence that this is the negro’s “truth.” “Without appearing to look either longer or less long, or with more or less interest, than a white man care for, and without altering their pace, they made thorough observation of us, of the car and of the tripod and camera.” Agee, mentioned the negro’s behavior as making him feel “ashamed and insecure.” Where do these feeling come from? Why does he feel ashamed?  Why would this make you feel ashamed"? These are all uprooted feelings from previous experiences in Agee's life, similar situations that he has been in before,  then reflected upon instantaneously and unconsciously. This is not necessarily the “truth” about the state of affairs, but Agee’s truth.

As in all stories we write, film and people and events we document in some form or fashion we are going to hold our documentation to our standards, values, and our experiences which will always be first in line. We will listen, document and record our subjects, and we are going to emulate and recreate it as we know and see it. “This mix of the objective and the subjective is a constant presence and for many of us a constant challenge- what is the blend of the two proper and at what point shall we begin to cry “foul””?