The Brooklyn Rail

FORESTS OF UNCERTAINTY: The Contentious Nonfiction of Robert Gardner” by Rachael Rakes in The Brooklyn Rail.

Excerpt from the feature previewing Gardner’s work prior to his retrospective at New York’s Film Forum in November 2011:

“Gardner was sensitive to the inevitability of change and desperate to capture a before image, which to a large extent is what makes the film seem problematic in its portrayal of otherness. Close-ups of chapped hands weaving or tending crops last for minutes on end, sweeping views of nature amplify distance. Yet these images are vital; the Dani are changing, in most cases have changed. The Dani people, considered “Neolithic” only 40 years ago, are now being ungracefully integrated into modernity, and as Gardner persistently feared, will emerge as superficially the same as people everywhere else, and judged upon their approximation of sameness. Dead Birds does depict a white man—or what Jay Ruby calls in a famous (in visual anthropology academia) critique “Yanqui Brahmin” —going to the land of strangeness and past and bringing back an explanation of different ways. But, importantly, Gardner has never claimed that his pictures bear any authority of interpretation, and he is clear in demonstrating his awareness of this as he documents his own strangeness to his subjects.”