Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014

(P29)

Visibility of dissent: meanings and repercussions of urban activism through digital photography and video

Location Claus Moser
Date and Start Time 31 May, 2014 at 09:00

Convenors

Aimilia Voulvouli (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)  email
Raul Gerardo Acosta Garcia (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)  email
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Short Abstract

In recent years, activists around the world have increasingly used digital photography and video as a central part of their repertoires of action. This panel seeks papers that reflect on the challenges this exercise of self-representation poses for anthropological studies of such movements.

Long Abstract

The use of digital media among activists around the world has become widespread. Their use of digital photography and video helps spread demands, critiques, and campaigns to wider populations. In short, they help make visible their dissent. In doing so, social movements and other groupings shape the representations they want to be known about them. How does this practice affect anthropological renderings of their processes? Are we able to disentangle the self-representation from the issues, and their wider context? Or do we more easily follow their agenda by even perhaps contributing to the effort of such representations? This panel seeks to bring together anthropological studies of such groups where this practice has itself proved to be a challenge for analysis. The various approaches that can take place when studying activism may have differing implications in this respect. We are particularly interested in efforts to shape cities through creative protests and actions, such as promoting the use of bicycles, stopping the demolition of historic buildings, or defending green areas. Campaigns such as these entail a vision of the future without deterritorialization and privatization inclusive and not exclusive for all inhabitants of the cities where they take place. With this in mind, activists design their messages to appeal to wider populations. By focusing solely on the images, we seek to focus on the content of efforts of self-representation rather than on their distribution in social media. We also pose the question about how these techniques can travel among other activist-led campaigns.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The meaning of Gezi through images: A semiotic analysis of pictures created and disseminated during the Gezi Park protests in Turkey

Author: Aimilia Voulvouli (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) email

Short Abstract

This paper aims to explore the ways in which the protestors of the Gezi movement in Turkey vizibilize their dissent through the creation and dissemination of pictures concerning not only their struggle but also their ideas about resistance, capitalism and socialism

Long Abstract

According to many scholars one of the main characteristics of social movements is not only that they provide momentum for political change but also a sense of meaning in life. The sense of belonging in a group of people who have common beliefs, aims and aspirations is undoubtedly a source of identity and thus a way of existing in this world. This sense, is very eloquently expressed through images which constitute alternative ways of expression as opposed to verbal ones in the context of traditional repertoirs of action such as demonstrations, petitions, strikes etc. In this framework, this paper aims to explore the ways in which the protestors of the Gezi movement in Turkey vizibilize their dissent through the creation and dissemination of pictures concerning not only their struggle but also their ideas about life, participation in public life, resistance as well as their ideas about political and economic systems such as capitalism and socialism. In short, their perceptions about what life is or should be about. To this end, a semiotic analysis of the pictures used and disseminated by the Gezi activists and protestors, during the Gezi park demonstrations in the summer of 2013 along with their 'anchorage' as well as their contextualization is going to be attempted.

Photography and Community Art Events in Poland

Author: Weronika Plinska (University of Warsaw) email

Short Abstract

What happened with the photographs made for people of Pierog by artists who used to spend summer in their countryside at the beginning of the 1990s? In my paper I would like to explore how photographs as material objects owned by participants shape memories of the artistic events.

Long Abstract

Soon after the Polish political transformation, at the very beginning of the 1990s, a group of artists from the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw invited their British counterparts to work together on a community art/cultural animation project - the first one ever undertaken by both groups in conjunction. What was crucial for both partners was the idea of "democratization of the visual media".

Among Warsaw artists and their British colleagues the conclusion was that everybody should gain an access to the visual media - especially people from remote, rural areas of central Poland, who, because of the lack of education and social exclusion, never had a chance to create visual narrations about themselves. What was more, the Polish artists strongly believed that visual media should be "liberated" - from the censorship and political control held by former communist authorities.

In my paper I would like to focus on memories of the villagers' first contact with the visual media. I would like to explore how photographs as material objects owned by participants shape memories of the artistic events. Is collaborative art work on the visual material possible? What are the problems concerning aesthetics and authorship that occur in collaborative process? From my point of view, and as it was once put by Alfred Gell (Gell 1998), investigating art objects is not necessarily about dealing with the problem of 'meaning', hidden behind the visual, iconographic language, but it is also about investigating 'the doing' - visual presence is therefore a social fact itself.

Narcissism in London Rap: How Music-Videos Redefine the Self-Representation of Young Activists

Author: Emilio G. Berrocal email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at the prominent role that hip-hop music-videos have acquired in urban social movements, raising the question whether narcissism is an appropriate key of reading for such a phenomenon in the domain of activism.

Long Abstract

This paper looks at the prominent role that hip-hop music-videos have acquired in urban social movements. By focusing on some acts of the London Conscious Hip-Hop Scene, the paper will raise the question whether narcissism is an appropriate key of reading with respect to the massive use of the narrative power of the image for rappers/activists to promote their campaigns. Building on ethnographic data in London Rap, we will first show and comment some video-strategies of self-representation, and then offer some insights into the cognitive changes at stake in the passage from a scriptural- and analogic-narcissism to a video- and digital-narcissism.

Motivational activism: do tactical uses of photography and video lead to predisposed analyses?

Author: Raul Gerardo Acosta Garcia (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München) email

Short Abstract

Activists have placed the issue of urban mobility in Guadalajara’s political agenda. In great part, their influence derives from an effective use of visual messages of their creative interventions. But, are anthropologists ourselves captivated by their messages thus distorting our analyses?

Long Abstract

In Guadalajara, Mexico, a recent wave of activism has seen the creation of dozens of groups struggling to influence government policies in order to upgrade public transport, establish better controls to protect pedestrians, and boost the use of the bicycle as a form of transport. This paper focuses on one group, City for All, which was largely responsible for establishing the issue of mobility in the local political agenda. In great part, its success is due to its members' ability to carry out creative and witty interventions that are made visible through social media as photographs or videos with concise expert discourses. As an anthropologist interested in how activists achieve change in policy-making and collective behaviour, however, I am wary of becoming one more follower of their work, thus prejudicing my analysis. In a way, it would be nothing new, as ethnographies usually take the side of the underdog. But would this process not be harmful even to the activists? Wouldn't a sober analysis prove more helpful to their struggle? This paper uses images produced by activists for one of their campaigns in order to reflect on their influence on anthropological research. Their objective is to captivate the public and motivate them to join their efforts. Although they claim to be open to criticism and suggestions, City for All activists guide their actions by a sense of righteousness. Are researchers thus motivated to ignore hard truths? Or is it understood that we should point to misgivings and risks we may identify?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.