Evolving humanity, emerging worlds
Manchester, UK; 5th-10th August 2013
Visual encounters: audiovisual approaches to anthropological knowledge
Location Chemistry G.54
Date and Start Time 07 Aug, 2013 at 09:00
Ines Ponte (University of Manchester) email
Luciana Lang (University of Manchester) email
Flavia Kremer (University of Manchester) email
Mail All Convenors
This panel explores how audiovisual methods are being used in contemporary research and what insights such use may bring to anthropologically informed research questions. We invite discussions concerned with ethics, representation, and with the distinctive knowledge produced by audiovisual means.
The purpose of this panel is to explore the contributions of visual anthropology to elucidate socio-cultural anthropological concerns. Photography, film and sound recording devices have been of great importance in the development of the discipline as a whole. The works of Bronislaw Malinowiski, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and Claude Levi-Strauss explored the use of the image in its moving and static forms, while Jean Rouch's ethnofictions experimented with the camera as a tool for reflexivity. Moreover, contributions that questioned the notion of anthropology as a 'discipline of words' have given emphasis to the impact of (audio-)visual research in contemporary anthropological enquiries. The aim of our panel is to explore how audiovisual methods are being used in contemporary research and what insights and debates such use may bring to anthropologically informed research questions.
The fact that video, photographic cameras and sound recording equipment are becoming more and more accessible to anthropologists, as well as to their subject groups, is a feature in contemporary research creating interesting dynamics and posing new challenges in terms of ethics and representation.
Audiovisual explorations in the field also enabled researchers, such as David MacDougall (among others), to investigate sensorial and corporeal forms of understanding, turning visual anthropology into a field of scientific research with its distinctive methods and epistemological assessments.
We are inviting contributions that explore the use of audio-visual media in research whilst providing significant insights to general anthropological debates.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Post-synchronization and Re-contextualisation - Results of an Image Repatriation Project with Old Ethnographic Films from Kiribati
This paper summarizes some of the results of a project of image repatriation, in which short ethnographic dance documentaries shot in 1964 in the Gilbert Islands (nowadays: Kiribati, Micronesia) were post-synchronized and others were re-contextualised by combining them with recent material on local handicrafts.
In 1964, the German ethnographer Gerd Koch spent almost one year in the Gilbert Islands, now the Micronesian state of Kiribati. Apart from other methods of data-collection, Koch also made some 70 short ethnographic 16mm-films, published by IWF Goettingen, Germany. They were never returned to Kiribati, until in 2010 and 2011 Wolfgang Kempf and Rolf Husmann repatriated digital copies of the silent films. Part of their project was also to attempt to post-synchronize some the silent films showing dance performances with the help of archived audio-recordings and to re-contextualize some films about handicrafts by combining them with recently shot material by local filmmakers. This paper summarizes some of the results of this project and offers audio-visual examples of that work.
Gender Difference and Social Change among the Bororo: exploring and creating visual histories as a means of producing knowledge.
This paper analyzes the making of a documentary film with Bororo people following the screening of six classical films made about them since 1917. Building on twelve months fieldwork the paper explores how visual methods were beneficial to investigate the under-explored relationship between gender difference and social change in the Amazonian region.
This paper analyses a research experiment realized with the Bororo people of Central Brazil. Wishing to understand how Bororo women and men experience and interpret social change, the study focused on the investigation of the spatial transformations on the moral topographies of the Bororo village plan. The Bororo village holds a distinctive place in anthropological literature for it represents both a source and the proving ground of key anthropological concepts, in particular in relation to Lévi-Straussian structuralism. Using film elicitation and film-making methods, this study created a space for debate with Bororo people who analyzed their visual history in relation to the current moral topographies of the village plan. The paper analyzes a research experiment of screening six classical films made about Bororo people since 1917 and discussing the relationships between gender difference and historical change. In addition to the use of film elicitation methods, this study explored film-making methods to create visual history with Bororo people. The paper describes the film-making process and analyzes local debates about how Bororo people should be represented in contemporary films. Building on twelve months fieldwork, the paper explores how the use of film-elicitation and film-making methods have been beneficial to an investigation of the under-explored relationship between gender difference and social change in the Amazonian region.
No Cameras Please! An analysis of Documentary film shoot permissions.
This paper argues that use of the camera has the potential to highlight the dominant norms of the social world within which the filmmaker finds herself. The non-fiction film shooting becomes yet another social space where norms and values such as those of gender and class etc. play out.
This paper is based on an ongoing study of Documentary film shootings carried out to outline the complex nature of social realities, which guide the practice of non-fiction research based filmmaking. It is argued here that during the 'shooting' process, a camera is hardly a tool that can be unilaterally used in just about any social scenario. A deeper analysis reveals that the presence and use of the camera has the potential to highlight the dominant norms of the social world in which the filmmaker finds herself. Significantly, these are the norms of gender, class, caste, religion and similar values held by the community being researched. Accordingly, some sites, some people, some interviews, some topics etc. become more or less recordable than others, thereby requiring special permissions and often their denials. The non-fiction film shooting therefore becomes yet another social space where these norms play out.
This paper thus presents an analysis of two documentary film shootings held in Delhi and Gujarat, looking at how filmmakers, at different stages of filmmaking filmed and sought permissions for their respective films. It incorporates the moments of denials, limited permissions and the negotiations by the respondents to evade the requests and questions of the filmmakers. A central argument, which emerges from this analysis, is that the personal decision of a respondent to participate in video based research or film is often tied to the communal norms and network of relationships within which the respondents find themselves.
Ethnographic film - from representing reality to anthropological fictions.
The paper explores the ways in which ethnographic film as a border discipline between anthropology and cinema created it’s path for epistemological legitimation in relation to the concept of ,,reality” and it’s way of representing it.
"When I am with anthropologists, they consider me as a filmmaker, when I am with filmmakers they consider me as an anthropologist." (Robert Gardner interviewing Jean Rouch in 1980)
The paper discusses ethnographic film as a border genre positioned between anthropology and cinema, regarded here as two institutional and critical/aesthetical modes of representing reality. The debate over the hybrid composition of the term ethnographic film, created several methodological trends such as: observational; participatory; reflexive; collaborative; sensory modes of doing anthropological work with film. In each case the quest for legitimating a new field of anthropological inquiry, that uses the aesthetically dominated medium of cinema, produced specific kind of theory and waves of practitioners which tend to have an anthropologically aware way of using film and media.
The field of visual anthropology, imbedded in epistemological assumptions about the issue of anthropological representation came a long way from the Margaret Mead's salvage anthropology to MacDougall's view of independence from the principle of scientific validity of ethnographic film. In my opinion the core concept that stood at the base of paradigm shifts in our field was the way in which authors relate to the concept of "reality" and the means and meanings of representing/interpret it.
The fictional turn in postmodern theory, opened up new possibilities of interpreting "reality" as a possible world or in our case as anthropological fictions. The paper explores this path of ethnographic film and it's relation with constructing anthropological knowledge.
All Rites Reversed: confusion and catharsis in filmmaking for fieldwork.
By attempting to understand confusion by rational means alone, itself a paradox, we remain uninitiated into the experience of the lived realities of others. A filmmaking for fieldwork approach allows the incoherent to be understood without it having to make sense.
I am a documentary filmmaker and a lecturer in Visual Anthropology working on subjects of childbirth, death, journeys, identity and transformation. My filmmaking is concerned with the ways in which human beings evolve a sense of understanding in a world they barely know and the attempt to convey an experience of existential uncertainty in confusing or paradoxical situations. I will present an analysis of the interplay that I have made between method and subject to conceptualize childbirth and death and how an understanding and a representation of this arise from the filmmaking process. The method grew from my fieldwork experiences with an English midwife and Indian tantric practitioners and their attempts to understand the 'human experience' through the inversion of social norms and by their relationship to childbirth and death. I hope to bring the audience as close as possible to the untouchable and in doing so reduce the gap between self and other, creating an experience that will itself become transformative through a particular type of understanding embodied in the film's viewers. I will discuss how 'catharsis' develops for an audience through a perceived proximity to the subjects and how this represents a particular form of understanding elusive through more rational means whereby the nonsensical can become coherent. In unpacking this tightly compressed process I will look at what makes modern filmmaking relevant to anthropology.
My paper will address the confrontation between contemporary anthropology and more traditional methods by examining polyphonic tension, syncretic dialogue and the communicational conflict between hetero- and self-representation
My research will focus the question of 'Who represents who?', in all its implications of power. Together with Kleber Meritororeu, we take up Marx's criticism of the division of labor - based on the structural centrality of social stratification and productive processes - is inadequate. The current post-industrial period and its acceleration of digital culture has further 'divided' subjects belonging to different cultures and experiences. For example, a division exists between those who communicate and those who are 'communicated' and between those who historically have the power of narration and those who are in the lonely state of being narrated objects. Even the classic vocation of anthropology to 'grasp the native point of view' has been rendered inadequate, since its legitimacy partially relies on the same individualized, differentiated native to communicate a personal point of view.
Ostranenie in Cape Town
This paper explores how a particular method of ethnographic research based on urban movement and the dramatization of lived experience can generate a process of defamiliarisation with a city's places. The discussion will take as its starting point my research conducted in post-Apartheid Cape Town.
This paper will explore how a particular method of ethnographic research based on urban movement and the dramatization of lived experience can generate a process of defamiliarisation with a city's places. The discussion will take as its starting point my research conducted in Cape Town into the signification of urban spaces in the post-Apartheid period.
Viktor Shklovskij considered habitual perception born of a regular, automatic viewpoint one of the biggest obstacles to knowing reality. The Russian formalists considered defamiliarization (Ostranenie) the way to achieve a renewed perception of the world. In this paper I will argue that ethnographic research can also generate a process of defamiliarization and a renewed perception of reality.
Taking inspiration from Andrew Irving's methodology, I adopted the ethnographic method of observation based on urban movement and the dramatization of the past through which the people of Cape Town explore their memories, hopes, and desires through urban spaces. This particular type of observation created in my interviewees a defamiliarized viewpoint and a renewed perception of the city as if they were seeing it "for the first time".
It is also my intention to explore how the use of photography and the recording of ambient sounds can be crucial tools for the process of defamiliarizing urban places.
Finally, I will describe salient moments from my fieldwork in Cape Town with the aim of observing and representing the processes of urban signification in the post-Apartheid period.
"How striking is the photograph?" - Representational challenges, anthropological discourse, and a need to wonder.
How does the interplay between photography and writing helps us thinking about contemporary anthropological attempts to representation and production of knowledge? In this paper, I argue that a preoccupation with these challenges is implicit in a photo exhibition organized at the RAI.
How does the interplay between photography and writing helps us thinking about contemporary anthropological attempts to representation?
In this paper, I argue that a preoccupation with this state of affairs is implicit in a recent photo exhibition organized at the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI). More, I argue that these photos "represent a critique of the intellectual and scientific environment and framework of beliefs in which they were produced" (Pink, 2007: 68). This exhibition epitomises contemporary preoccupations of anthropologists concerned with finding a balance among multiple and often conflicting representational choices in order to communicate the complexities of their profession and the diversity of human cultures.
My analysis of the preoccupations, critique, and re-presentations that are enacted in this exhibition resonates with a broader debate, recently addressed in a series of ESRC workshops, concerning the production of anthropological knowledge, the means and media of our epistemology, and the overall mission of the anthropologist.
Issues in filming in the first person among the donsow of Burkina Faso
I reflect on the methodological and representational issues I had to deal with filming my own apprenticeship of donsoya, the initiatory knowledge on hunting. Themes touched include the representation of bodily experience, the role of reconstruction and authenticity, collaborative filming.
Introducing his film Tourou et Bitti, Jean Rouch described it as an experiment in filming in the first person. Forty years later I found myself reinterpreting the same idea, during my research on the donsow of Western Burkina Faso, an initiatory hunting society. Studying donsow meant becoming part of the society, sharing practical activities, experiencing apprenticeship, learning hunting and magic. This reflected in a film project which aimed at representing an apprenticeship of donsoya from my own point of view, which brought to the surface a number of problems which are the subject of this paper. In the first place, how to represent experience, in its sensory and bodily aspects, and how to give the sense of a subjective point of view. I plan to address the technical and poetic solutions I recurred to, drawing from the work of Jean Rouch and Steven Feld. I also had to deal with the long-dating schizophrenia between the role of observer and participant, which very practically translated into the impossibility of filming certain situations in which I was too deeply involved. This brings me to reflect on the role of reconstruction in the film and to problematise experience and its supposed authenticity and immediateness. Finally, I will describe how I tried to compensate the subjectivity of my point of view through a methodology based on collaboration in the conception of the film, screening and editing of the footage in the field and the subjects performing for the camera.
Can Film Show the Visible?:The Filming of Hunters in West Africa
My paper aims to question whether—and how—cinematographic images can make tangible a lived experience of the human-animal encounter in hunting. To this end, my footage recorded among the Mande (West Africa) as well as ethnographic and commercial films, will be marshaled as evidence.
When I started my research among the Mande hunters, almost no audiovisual documentation on the topic was available. During my subsequent field trips, I tried to fill this gap and recorded many hours of footage. I then edited it, adding commentary and forging it into a single, coherent narrative - a short ethnographic film . It constituted an annex to my doctoral dissertation. My research focused on the corporeal dimensions of the hunting practices, this audiovisual support of my hypotheses seemed therefore essential. Yet, I quickly realized that its problematic technical quality—the consequence of the conditions of its recording, including insufficient or overabundant light and the fact that the search of game was characterized by a strong mobility and unpredictability —rendered it virtually unintelligible. The next step for me consisted in a series of collaborations with professional filmmakers, resulting in a film on the hunters for French television. From these experiences, which inevitably involved an important amount of staging, I became somehow skeptical. Less in terms of the cinematographic or photographic images' possibility "to show the invisible," the issue recently examined by Willerslev and Suhr and debated for quite some time by anthropologists. Rather, I started to question the capacity of these images, even when handled by the masters such as Rouch or Marshall, to remain truth to the visible, to make tangible a lived experience of hunting. This paper intends to address, through sharing of my personal involvement with audiovisual media contextualized within the larger anthropological frame, this problem.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.