Just Representations:

OBSERVATIONS OF A GENERAL NATURE
by Robert Gardner

This book presents selected writings by Robert Gardner. There are journals he wrote during stays in different parts of the world, observing and reacting to diverse ways of life, traditional and modern. There are his accounts of film projects envisioned and planned but not completed. There are essays, more formal and systematic than the journals, on ways of life in pre-modern cultures that Gardner has observed first hand. We also read his voiceover narrations from the films Dead Birds (1961) and Rivers of Sand (1975), which come to life in a new way on the page. And in an interview, letters, and articles, Gardner addresses the subject of filmmaking—his own and that of others—and reflects on film’s relation to anthropology and, more broadly, to the very project of human beings to understand reality.

The material here, most all of it previously unpublished, is presented in three sections. In Parts I and II we see Gardner in the practice of just representation, or aiming at it. In Part III we see him talking about just representation, the concerns and the issues of it, specifically in his own filmmaking work and to some extent in that of others. He talks about filmmaking, not writing—but the writings of Parts I and II cannot be disentangled from filmmaking. There is the same sensibility and drive to expression at work. And as Gardner’s brief introductions to each piece make clear, the writings come out of filmmaking situations, out of preparation for or work on various filmmaking projects. The writings extend what the filmmaking does, complete what the filmmaking does not complete, take byways from the filmmaking and make new discoveries—and, of course, feed back into the filmmaking. The writing and filmmaking complete each other.

Gardner is fascinating to read. He puts himself into difficult and telling situations, goes where most of us want to go, at least mentally, and gives account with his eye for important detail and, always, his penchant for evaluating the motives that drive people and the forces that bear down on them, as they live their lives and create what they create. Gardner holds a unique place in our culture. He stands for a certain humanistic anthropology, in filmmaking and in writing. I can search myself, he seems to say, and find what binds me to another and what thus can give insight into another—we are of a kind, after all, and participate in a general nature. This self-search and making of connection realizes itself in the techniques and expressive means of the films, and in Gardner’s distinctive way with words in the journals, reflections, and self-reflections making up this book.

Published jointly by Studio7Arts and Peabody Museum Press, October 2010.



  • aerial landscape by Robert Fulton, Chile 1999.
  • possible location for WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS, W. China 1995.
  • Robert Gardner and a river of sand, Ethiopia 1971.
  • a Borroro maiden's choice, Niger 1978 .
  • Ákos Östör and Robert Gardner, Benares 1985.
  • the old lady, Namibia 1958.
The Impulse to Preserve
Photography, Print
The Impulse to Preserve
Story of Umaru Dikko
Print
Story of Umaru Dikko
Making of Forest of Bliss
Film, Print
Making of Forest of Bliss
Beauty Contest
Print
Beauty Contest
Just Representations:
Print
Just Representations:
Change the Channel:
Exhibition
Change the Channel:
Columbus Ave:
Photography, Print
Columbus Ave:
Correspondences
Film
Correspondences
Deus Ex Boltanski
Film
Deus Ex Boltanski
Forsaken Fragments
Film
Forsaken Fragments
Glimpses of Octavio Paz
Film
Glimpses of Octavio Paz
Human Documents
Photography, Print
Human Documents
In and Out
Photography, Print
In and Out
Josep Lluís Sert
Film
Josep Lluís Sert
Lingering Ghosts
Poetry, Print
Lingering Ghosts
Screening Room
Film
Screening Room
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