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Documenting Lives

James Agee's and Walker Evans's "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men</I>

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Astrid Böger

While there is an implicit claim at the basis of most social documentary that the status quo has to change, James Agee's and Walker Evans's seminal work Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941) diverges from that pattern in that it rejects facile improvement programs and foregrounds the ethical and aesthetic problems involved in all documentary. Reflecting recent theoretical work on such questions as the appropriation of the Other, textual and visual violence, and documentary realism, this study is an inquiry into the ways the two approaches in the book - Agee's experimental prose and the brilliant photography of Walker Evans - gesture toward an aesthetic ideal that tries not to objectify its subjects but to engage them, and the readers, as equals.
Contents: 30s documentary - Documentary realism - Documentary prose and photography, particularly of 30s America - Depression documentation - Dialogism - The Other in documentary.