Bill Nicols's typology of documentary practices

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Nicols' typology is read through Andrew Chesher's thesis

  • While Nicols' approach proceeds from Foucault's Archaeology, it aims to explore the dispersion of objects, which Cheshire argues is in contrast to Foucault's approach. This is because Foucault holds the production of the object through discourse can be mapped.


Explanation Example
Expository Commentator may appear as the "voice of God" or appear on camera - it is through authorial discourse alone that the object is constituted and explained. Considered to be the most naive mode. Object is presented as if it's transparent: Documentaries made under John Grierson's patronage, much television documentary in the UK today. Limitation: this approach fails to consider the fact the documentary's contiguity with the practices it represents as a basis for its engagement with them, and it does this by ignoring the implication of the reality it represents.
Performative Prioritizes to the affective dimensions in operation between us and the text. "It proposes a way of being in the world as this world is itself brought into being through the act of comprehension, 'abducted from fragments'." (Nicols, as quoted in AC, DISW, 4). Iconic images replace the world the documentary is otherwise thought to index. These emphasize qualities of duration, texture and experience. Robert Gardner's Forest of Bliss
Reflexive Most self-aware and sophisticated in relation to its object. It's concerned with representation of the object itself. "its object is no longer the historical world as such, but is transformed into the representation of the historical world." (AC, DISW, 4) Limits: it draws attention to the textuality of the documentary and hence emphasizes its own construction - runs the risk of becoming a "textual voice that overwhelms the discrete voices of social actors with a message of its own about the problematics of representation" (Nicols, as quoted in AC, DISW, 4) So this approach fails to consider the fact the documentary's contiguity with the practices it represents as a basis for its engagement with them, and it does this because it's overly focused on its own artefactuality to the exclusion of engaging with the wider processes of social reality. Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera, Trinh T. Min-ha's Reassemblage
Interactive Explanation: Example:
Observational the work of Richard Leacock and DA.A. Pennebaker



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