Stephanie Spray (Harvard University)
Paper short abstract:
Untitled is a 14-minute shot depicting a couple’s playful bickering at the foot of a temple in Nepal. Free of obvious ethnographic contextualization or overarching narrative, its minimal editorial choices are the generative core guiding seeing and knowing. The openness of the work is reflective of my own experience of fieldwork, where knowledge is partial and generative and the immensity of the present overwhelms ideas about meaning.
Paper long abstract:
Untitled is comprised of a 14-minute static shot depicting a newlywed couple’s playful bickering at the foot of a small temple in rural Nepal. The shot is presented free of ethnographic contextualization and an overarching narrative, a snippet of life framed by the camera and left open for interpretation. In spite of this, or perhaps for this very reason, this fragment becomes a world in itself, reflecting in its particularity universals about the complexity and vacillating nature of intimacy. Analogously, Untitled inspires questions about ethnographic intimacy and the responsibilities that come with the presumed privileged access of the maker, whose relationship to the film subjects is unclear. The piece seems to propose that ‘less is more’, although maybe only deceptively, and engenders an appreciation of the fragmentary nature of our understanding. To complicate the apparent simplicity of the work, the couple’s spat is highly discursive and yet their ongoing banter is purposefully unsubtitled - with one key exception, the finale of the piece when a principle film subject directly addresses the maker. "Are you uncomfortable?" Why or why not? Does your relationship to the work, its subjects, and the maker vacillate along with the capricious play of the couple? In what ways are you implicated in the multiplicity of subjectivities and visions embedded in the piece? Untitled shares a noted hallmark of film and video work emerging from the Sensory Ethnography Lab, which is the sense of being thrown into the world, where context emerges within and between shots, from the in-betweenedness and fragmented nature of a film’s construction. Even when stripped bare and largely free from narrative, editorial decisions about framing and cutting are the generative core that guide our seeing and knowing. In my experience, this is reflective of the experience of fieldwork, where knowledge is partial and generative, rather than conclusive, and the immensity of the present overwhelms ideas about meaning.
Intimacy, immanence and narratives