Camera as sign: On the ethics of unconcealment in documentary film and video

Garnet C. Butchart, University of South Florida


When we look at a documentary, what do we see? Probably not the apparatus that gives us images to view. If we did, then perhaps questions about the ethics of documentary cinema would be easily answered. The goal of this article is to broaden the moralistic purview of image ethics debates with a semiotic phenomenology of the visual mode of address of documentary. I describe how ‘‘doubling’’ and ‘‘redoubling’’ the visual mode of address undermines the authority of documentary and helps to overcome debates about two main ethical issues � participant consent and the audience’s right to information. Unconceal- ing the viewpoint of documentary also broadens media ethics debates by bringing attention to the implied viewer, asking of it to reflect on the consequences of the communicative act of looking. Examples of widely available documentary film and video are discussed.