June 11, 2014
For those of you who missed the Inter-Reflexions video and photo exhibition on June 3rd, worry not. You can now watch the videos on line, just click on each video’s link in this post. And now you can view the photos in the digital exhibition below:
Prizes were won by the following:
- Anthropological Vision: Jamie Baird for ‘The Evolution of Murals in East Belfast’
- Most innovative use of Photography: Sarah Graham for ‘Threads of History’
- Best overall photo / set of photos: Joanna Jones for ‘Timberlina: portraits of a contemporary drag artist’
Reflexion– expression without words; a remark expressing careful consideration; a calm, lengthy, intent consideration.
Inter– Between, among; mutually; reciprocally
Marlowe Lecture Theatre 1, University of Kent, Tuesday, 3rd June, 1-7pm
This year’s screening and exhibition of third year visual anthropology projects was titled Inter-Reflexions. The organisation of the screening programme made more explicit how our students’ projects speak to each other as much as they do to the wide issues they engage with. They testify to the processes of collaboration and feedback they followed and inspiration they took from teaching in visual anthropology theory in the Autumn term.
In this yearly event we celebrate our students commitment to creative use of photography and video that takes visual anthropological methodologies into engagement with the issues and interests that inspire and fascinate them.
For the screening we started with the body’s most symbolised extension into the space that surrounds us in Matthew Neale’s Hair, a critical exploration of the meanings of hair and hair products. The student experience also featured strongly in Hollie Goman’s intimate enquiry into what university means to students, in The Art of Growing Up. In an altogether more imagined and playful space of magic and alternative use of university spaces, Jake Conley and Chelsey Jacobs, entered into the games of the Harry Potter inspired university club, The Hogwarts Society. By contrast, Liam Dorr took us off campus in an ethnofiction inspired film on one student’s plan for the perfect party. Ongka’s Big Moka was the inspiration, but Joel’s Big Party is a lot funnier.
From the student ‘hair’ and the now we moved to the theme of eternity and longevity in shorts that tackled religion, activism and laughter. Christiane Howe deepened our appreciation of arranged and sometimes fortuitous marriages in The Unification Movement. Annabelle Spooner travelled to South Korean churches in the UK to see the challenges they face in Yeswhonim.
In Of Families and Eternity, Robert Malin delivered new insights from behind the doors of the Mormon church. In fighting for the continued use of their skatepark on the Southbank, the activists that Henry Worger collaborated with in Culture with a Capital U, also desire a sense of continuity and longevity. Troy King’s The Act of Laughter delved deeply into the challenges of being a stand up comedian and found strong links with anthropology.
Dr Oliver Double, who starred in Troy King’s film, dropped in to contribute further insights into stand up comedy.
In the break we had the opportunity to look at the photographic exhibition. It covered similarly wide-ranging topics, exploring a range of photographic techniques within anthropology as well as diverse visual subjects. From the performance of gender and sexuality, to the effect of moving into a retirement home, to the emotional journey of a mixed-martial arts fighter as he prepares for, and takes part in, the biggest fight of his career, the photographic projects asked how, as researchers, we can explore and depict the encounters with life that make up the human experience using photography. This year’s photographers were: Alice Keegan, Lewis Batterham, Jamie Baird, Ayla Jay, Joanna Jones, Sarah Graham, Thomas Lindsay, Rebecca Scutcher, Keira Henderson, Daven Nijran-Talwar, Lydia Hill and Monique Dray.
We returned from the break to the themes of home, place and identity, linked in a series of shorts that travel from Cornwall to Canterbury’s Good’s Shed, to London protests against homelessness, to a novel exploration of the idea of stress and ending with one man’s fight with mental illness. Jesse Tomlinson tested claims for Cornish identity in Ve Bos Kernewek in a short in which he was also tested. In Localised, Oliver Seary took us to the heart and soul of local produce, through evocative visual portraits of traders from the Good’s Shed. Experimental in format with a challenging message, Mike Cadby, delivered a novel framing of the challenge of homelessness in Life’s a Beach. Scott Skinner addressed the question of how the idea of stress effects us using a key TED talk as a vehicle propelled by anthropological interest in the reception of media. A Stressful Perception aims to transform the audience’s perceptions. In Fragments of a Life, Simon Schwarz took us into the home of one man and their journey of facing mental illness through the camera.
Our final group of films shifted more deeply into the theme of reflection. In A Journey Into Landscape & Tourism in Aljezur, Alex Woodcock, journeyed to Portugal to meditate on a village where most of the population now live in cities.
In Transient Reflections, Becci Geach translated the experience of being human in moving trains into a visual aesthetic that linked us to fellow passengers. Piano Talk, focused on the destination. Helen Peek explored the reasons why people come from far and wide to play the pianos in King’s Cross Station. Naomi Webb’s Running Monologue, was a strikingly personal portrayal structured by a powerfully moving motif. Sam Parsons’ gravity defying film, Leave it on the Ground, opened up the social and personal motivations of sky divers and concluded our afternoon.
This concluded the screening part of the day.
This year we welcomed back Professor Hugh Brody to award the prize in his name. We were also excited to learn how the Tracks Across Sand project has developed since last year. Tracks Across Sand is a major video project that looks the history of the first indigenous land claim in Africa. Last year he started a major fundraising initiative to fund the dissemination of the film and to create an online resource. This year he confirmed that he has got funding to screen the film all over the African continent and to set up an archive at the University of Cape Town.
This year we also welcomed a new judge for the screening to award the David Pick Documentary Prize. In a career spanning more than three decades, David Pick produced and directed hundreds of television programmes in the UK, mainly for ITV. From science magazines (The Real World) to religious/ethical affairs documentaries (The Human Factor); from a twice-weekly live soap opera (Together) to filmed family comedy (Worzel Gummidge); from documentaries like The Tigers’ Tale, chronicling the excavation of The Channel Tunnel, to The Hannibal Test, which followed Ian Botham and elephants on a charity trek across the Alps.
Are Mothers Really Necessary?, a seven-part series for Channel 4 on the work of the controversial child-psychiatrist, Dr John Bowlby, was focused on three of his major studies: Attachment, Separation and Loss. The filming presented many practical and ethical challenges to the documentary-maker: in a residential unit for children suffering the effects of severe emotional and/or physical abuse; in day-care centres for babies and toddlers; in a preparatory boarding school; in the mother-and-baby units of British and American prisons; in the cancer wards of children’s hospitals; and with grieving parents in a children’s hospice. Since retiring from TV, David has studied Creative Writing, taking two modules of a part-time BA at UKC before joining the MA programme at Christ Church Canterbury, where he gained a distinction. His first novel, Mrs May: A PsychoSexual Odyssey, tells the story of a primary schoolteacher’s mission to redeem a teenage thug, once a delightful child in her reception class. Mrs May is available as a paperback or e-book on Amazon.
In the dialogue between Hugh Brody and David Pick we hoped to find the creative tension and possibilities between the increasingly blurred boundaries of ethnographic and documentary filmmaking.
The photography prizes were judged by Glenn Bowman and Maria-Paz Peirano. Maria-Paz Peirano is a PhD student researching Chilean cinema. Glenn Bowman is a reader of social anthropology at the University of Kent, Director of the Liberal Arts programme and a visual anthropologist who uses photography extensively in his research in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories of Palestine, Macedonia and Cyprus.
To see photos of the day please click on our Flickr photostream.
Photography prizes went to the following:
Most innovative use of photography: Sarah Graham for ‘Threads of History’
Anthropological Vision: Jamie Baird for ‘The evolution of Murals in East Belfast’
Best overall photographs: Joanna Jones for ‘Timberlina: an anthropological case study of a contemporary drag artist’
The photography exhibition can be viewed online here.
David Pick Prize –Fragments of a Life – Simon Schwarz
Peter McCulloch, the key protagonist and collaborator in Simon’s film received the prize in his absence.
David Pick Runner Up- Localised– Oliver Seary
Special Commendation- The Unification Movement– Christiane Howe
Hugh Brody Prize –Running Monologue–Naomi Webb
Hugh Brody Runner Up Prize- Joel’s Big Party – Liam Dorr
Audience Prize-Fragments of a Life–Simon Schwarz
Photographs by Caroline Bennett and Mike Poltorak.
The screening and exhibition of third year anthropology student visual projects took place over a long afternoon in Marlowe Lecture theatre. The event was attended by a large group of students, staff and people who had featured in the films. We were especially happy to see Caroline Grundy, a longstanding member of staff who had recently retired. For many years she had wanted to be present for the whole event.
This year’s photographic display covered a wide range of themes, demonstrating a common desire among students to engage with people in the local area and explore anthropology’s relevance for making sense of cultural difference in Southeast England.
Topics covered include the Kurdish Newroz (New Year) celebrations in Finsbury Park, sexuality, tattooing, Canterbury and its cathedral, cultural greetings, Canterbury markets and more. Photographic work by Katie Bowerman, Bianca Corriette, Helen Delmar, Myrthe Flierman, Sophie Giddings, Tabitha Hamill, Ville Laakkonen, Sarah O’Donovan, Sophie Tyler, Emma Ward and Matt Weston was exhibited in the Marlowe Foyer. Glenn Bowman judged the three photography prizes.
The theme of people’s engagement with place was also very strong in this year’s video projects. The Cathedral featured in two meditative films by Charles Beach and Claire McMurtrie.
We were extremely happy to welcome Professor Roger Just back this year. His popularity and inspiration in the year of his retirement had prompted the students that year to suggest a prize in his name. This was the last year that students taught by him were still at Kent. We were very happy to welcome a longstanding friend of the school Professor Hugh Brody, and previous Stirling Lecturer, to award a prize in his name. He took time from a intensive schedule of screenings of a groundbreaking film project that documents an indigenous land claim in South Africa.
In 2011 he gave a retrospective of his work at Kent. Our third judge, Dr Kate Moore, is also a documentary filmmaker and had recently been awarded her PhD in visual anthropology for a project in collaboration with the Powell-Cotton Museum on their Angolan collection that led to a major exhibit, ‘TALA! Visions of Angola’ that gained widespread acclaim. As the teacher of the course last year, we were especially interested to hear her opinion of the changes in filmmaking styles and focus from last year’s cohort, screened as ‘Self Spaces’ .
We reflected on the students last year and what were they doing now. Nazly Dehganiazar and Harriet Kendall won the Roger Just and Hugh Brody prizes last year for their films ‘Canterbury’s Buskers’ and ‘Voices from the Back Seat’ and we were all very moved to watch their video messages from Holland and the US. Nazly is now doing an MA in Social Anthropology, while Harriet is using her anthropological skills, in the year before going to film school, as the cultural adviser in the English Village in Disneyworld.
Films were grouped into themes related to peoples’ engagement with space and introduced by the teacher of the video project, Mike Poltorak. After the screening of a group of films, the directors came to the front for a Q and A. If you’d like to make your decision about your favourite film please feel free to view and read about them before you read the judges’ choices below.
Noisy Neighbours Michael Selmes
Why Whitstable? Anastasia Sotiriou
Discontinuous Space Claire McMurtrie
Ethnochoreology Shaheen Kripalani
Cathedral Triptych Charles Beach
More Human Kane Taylor
The 1882 Movement Harry Farrell
Using the Stour Michael Bonnington
Starry Chi-An Peng
6 Miles Southeast Oliver Hall
The Lives We’ve Lost Bhokraj Gurung, Danny Mahaffey
Anglo-Deutsch Edward Coates
Under My Skin Olivia Maguire
From East to West Carmen Yam, Thomas Slatter
The Art of Being Lost Elinor Turnbull
Hugh Brody spoke about the high quality of films this year and how so many of the films deserved a prize. He reviewed all the film drawing attention to particular things he liked in each film. The judges’ decision however was unanimous. The Hugh Brody Prize went to Charles Beach for his film ‘Cathedral Triptych’. The runner up prize was awarded to Olivia Maguire for ‘Under My Skin’.
The Roger Just Prize for Visual Anthropology went to Chi-An Peng for ‘Starry’ and the runner up prize to Harry Farrell for ‘The 1882 Movement’.
The Audience Prize was voted on by a large audience of students, visitors and staff. It went to Elinor Turnbull’s ‘The Art of Being Lost’. The runner up prize went to Carmen Yam and Thomas Slatter’s ‘From East to West’. It was a close vote with the difference between 1st and 2nd only one vote and closely followed up by Bhokraj and Danny’s film, ‘The Lives We’ve Lost’ picking up a large number of second place votes.
The prize was awarded by Alex Woodcock, representing our very active student group TRIBE, and Kate Moore. TRIBE organised the first ever undergraduate conference (Breaking Bubbles) in anthropology in the UK.
For the photography prizes there were three categories and a special mention.
Katie Bowerman won the prize for Innovative Photography.
Tabitha Hamill won the prize for Best Set of Photographs.
Ville Laakkonen won the prize for Best Anthropological Content and received a special mention. As a visiting student from Finland, Ville was particularly happy to receive this accolade and commented on how studying at Kent had been an incredible beneficial experience.
The three prize winner’s work is currently on permanent display outside the visual anthropology room in the Marlowe Building.
Students and staff joined together to thank the teachers of the visual anthropology projects course this year, Matt Hodges (Photography) and Mike Poltorak (Video), for their inspiration and considerable work that went into preparing the exhibit and screening. Mike Poltorak thanked the students for their energy and creativity and expressed the desire for them to keep in contact after graduation to help inspire future generations of visual anthropologists.
You can see photos of the event here. You can also see all the films and read more about them in the dedicated blogs above.
We’d love to read any comments in this blog or in our facebook group, UK Visual Anthropology especially related to how these films can be useful more broadly. Please post the films you like on your networks so that our students get the wider recognition they deserve.
Video Prizes Awarded
Cathedral Triptych Charles Beach (Hugh Brody Prize for Visual Anthropology)
The 1882 Movement Harry Farrell (Roger Just Runner-Up Prize)
Starry Chi-An Peng (Roger Just Prize for Visual Anthropology)
Under My Skin Olivia Maguire (Hugh Brody Runner Up Prize)
From East to West Carmen Yam, Thomas Slatter (Audience Runner Up Prize)
The Art of Being Lost Elinor Turnbull (Audience Prize)
February 13, 2013
Francesco Bondanini, a University of Kent alumnus, uses participatory visual methods to explore and empower the lives of migrants and detainees in Spain and Germany. In the interview about his work below, he describes how the use of visual methods not only enables a greater depth of experience and knowledge, but more importantly, allows people to become involved and benefit from his work in a much more meaningful way.
Tell us about the project you are involved in right now?
I have just finished the first part of a project called “Marcaré” in Melilla. Together with a team we worked in the periphery of the city with vulnerable groups, mostly from Amazigh origin (Berbers). We used art and audiovisuals as a tool to empower people and as a means for them to recover their surroundings. It was a participatory project, in the sense that we worked together with young people and women with the aim to transform the area where they lived.
How and why did you get involved?
Knowing about my PhD, in which I used many art and audiovisual methods, Dr. José Luis Villena, a professor at the University of Granada, believed I could coordinate the project, and the Instituto de las Culturas, a public institution that works on cultural projects in the city, funded it. Together we started collaborating with local NGO Melilla Acoge with whom I had worked during my PhD, with the Red Ciudadana por la Paz, and with neighbourhood associations that made it possible for us to get into these areas.
‘Marcaré’ uses visual methods developed during your PhD: can you tell us about your PhD and how you started to use these techniques?
I studied Communication at the Lumsa University in Rome and I have always been very interested in Social Sciences; once I started my PhD I believed I could use what I learnt at University about photo and video in my anthropological research.
Throughout my PhD I broadly studied the situation of migrants dwelling in a particular place – the so-called European border zone. Specifically, my research focuses on the everyday-lives of migrants living in the CETI (Temporary Permanence Camp, as per its Spanish acronym) in the autonomous city of Melilla, a Spanish enclave in Northern Africa. Through qualitative criteria and analysis, I researched into the way a wide variety of migrants, such as Subsaharan Africans, Algerians, and Asians, rebuild their lives in this border zone. I paid particular attention to migrants’ strategies of integration and their structural and social exclusion.
In this research I used a participatory methodology that employs audiovisuals and art. I ran workshops on photo, video, radio and theatre to migrants and then debated the results with them. I also used audiovisual techniques during interviews.
What methods do you use in your current work and how have these developed from those used in your PhD?
During my fieldwork I used a sort of participatory approach with the migrants that were living in the CETI of Melilla. I ran audiovisual workshops; that was also a way to get in touch with migrants. Following these we organized exhibitions of their works, a Seminar and a theatre piece too. The visual work provided a way to create an open climate of opinion about their problems in the city, and a way to make their stories visible to the rest of the citizens. In the new project (Marcaré) I used the experience gained from the projects in my PhD and applied them within a different group and context. I worked with an amazing team, and with a higher level of organization (and a higher budget) we were able to reach more people.
What difference do you think visual methods make?
I believe the use of visuals is a way to make the work accessible to a larger audience. This kind of work sometimes risks not being so “academic” but I believe it helps to make some kind of advocacy. On the other hand, I believe in the approach that is based on the fact that the groups with whom we are working make the visual and artistic products; we often limit our role to coordination of activities only.
What happens to the work produced in this project?
I believe in the importance of showing the works, to prove what has been done and to share peoples’ stories and reach a wider audience. I spend a lot of energy preparing exhibitions within the districts of the people in order to show to the other inhabitants their work. These exhibitions are also a way to make visible ideas of transforming the surroundings. We also worked through performances, murals and artistic installations in the districts, and each of these enabled many other people to share and understand.
We worked a lot in a district called Monte María Cristina. We held three exhibitions of photos made by the young pupils that participated in our workshops. We usually held these in the Neighborhood associations that we had worked in for the original workshops. On one occasion some of the pictures were pasted on the walls of the district. At the opening of another, the pupils performed an “action painting” in front of an improvised audience.
We also painted two of the patios of the prison of the same barrio. The two murals were created and painted by the prisoners. This was the process: we presented our idea (to paint the patio) and told them to think about what they wanted to see in their patio, something they didn’t have or couldn’t see inside the prison. Karima Soliman, an artist who is part of the team, put together their ideas and sketches and then we moved onto the wall. We spent almost two weeks working with them on the mural, debating ideas and the painting process. This was one of the best experiences of the project; and this is how I conceive the participation approach.
Good stories? Bad stories? Things you would change?
Good stories: Fortunately many. Last week Trini Soler, a technician of the RNE (National Spanish Radio) that also collaborates in “Marcaré”, told me that she met a young pupil who had taken part in our radio workshop. The pupil discovered that Estitxu González, another member of the team, was performing a theatre piece and she decided to go. When the young pupil met Trini, she asked her when we would be going back to the Monte to follow up with the workshops, because she had lots of things prepared. We are possibly the first team that is using artistic and audiovisual tools to involve people, especially the younger people in cultural activities in these areas. The fact that the girl went to the performance of my colleague made me think that we are going in the right direction, trying to make culture delve into these barrios.
On another occasion, we painted a mural in a park in the Pinares, a zone in another marginal part of the city. When we arrived the park was in a bad condition. We followed the same process as we did in the prison; in this case working with young pupils. They created and painted the mural with the help of Manolo López, a professor at the Schools of Art in Melilla and part of our team as well. We were afraid that the mural would only last a few days before being destroyed, because as they told us, this is what normally happens. Instead, after almost six months the mural persists intact on the wall. The mural was our way to improve the park and give it back to the youth that are living there; to transform it into a space to play.
Bad stories: There are a few anecdotes related to bureaucracy and our relations with the Centre in Granada that was our partner in the project; unfortunately the relation was not so fluid.
I would like to continue with this project. We would like to transform it into a sort of Programme, i.e. something that could be permanent. The team is now working on parallel projects but we would like to start again with “Marcaré” in a few months, so yes, we would like to change into something bigger.
Have you noticed any changes in people through being involved in these visual projects?
Yes. I believe audiovisuals are a way to let people express their feelings. We gave them training and then they were able to express better their need to transform the reality where they are living or improve their quality of life. Audiovisuals and art give people the power to express themselves. We also tried to give them useful feedbacks and suggestions. Once a young student from a public school where we held a photo workshop confessed: “maybe I will not be a professional photographer, but I hope that in the future I will travel all over the world to immortalize every place and moment with my camera”.
How has your work changed through the process (academic and none)?
I started using Visual methods because I find it fascinating. Then I started to use participatory methodologies because I felt that the result of the interviews was better if I moved from behind the camera to beside the camera; making the subject feel more comfortable while he could manage the situation better. I believe that in this way I could reach different and better data, more in agreement with the kind of research I do. On the other hand, l believe in the methodology I use, because it gives me the chance to know the world I am studying from the inside; the workshops are a way to get in contact with people and establish relations that eludes from the duality of interviewer-interviewee.
When I started “Marcaré” I felt that I should be surrounded by a team of professionals of audiovisuals and art, for this reason I looked for people with this profile to join the team. As a result, the quality of the workshops and the works produced definitely improved.
What advice would you give to people trying to work in visual methods?
I would suggest they get in touch and talk with the people with whom they are filming, establishing the way to use visual methods. Sometimes these people feel uncomfortable but we don’t understand it. I also suggest trying to collaborate with the interviewee, in this way the work will surely gain something from the experience as well.
And what’s next for you?
I have just landed in Cologne (Germany). I will be here until June developing a research project funded by the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) at the University of Cologne that involves Spanish migrants living in the city. I will use visual methods and a participatory approach in the research. And as I mentioned before, we hope to take “Marcaré” to the next level in the not too distant future.
Francesco B. Bondanini (interview by Caroline Bennett)
For more info about the project MARCARÉ, visit:
Web (in English): http://marcaremelilla.wordpress.com/in-english/
On Facebook: Marcare Melilla: arte y transformación social
On Twitter: @marcaremelilla
January 26, 2013
Last week my friend Paul Christensen invited me to attend a ceremony of spirit mediums with him. The day was fascinating – full of sounds, smells and sights and whole new part of Cambodia I had not yet experienced. I spent the day taking photos (as usual), the full gallery of which can be seen on my flickr page here. I’ve also added a few below.
People in Cambodia mostly don’t visit spirit mediums to negotiate and understand the past; they visit them to deal with the present and plan the future. Between the pair of us (Paul and I), and many other researchers besides, we were expecting spirit mediums to be one of the avenues people used to negotiate the terrible period of civil war and conflict in the 1960s and 70s, and in particular the horrific violence wrought by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 – 1979. But this appears not to be the case. That period of history is not approached through ghosts and spirits; it is experienced and integrated into today’s life in a million different ways, some of which I am exploring in my research on mass graves. But the mediums are an important part of Cambodian life for a whole host of other fascinating reasons, and if you want to know more I’d drop Paul a line!
January 10, 2013
Back in August 2012 I spent a day at the Vietnamese floating village at Kampong Chnnang, central Cambodia. Lying at the mouth of the Tonle Sap Lake, much of the town of Kampong Chnnang spends half the year beneath the water. Allowing for this, many of the local people have adapted their lives and homes, whilst the local Vietnamese community lives entirely in a floating village; living their lives on the water in floating houses, shops on boats, and livelihoods which make the most of the surrounding water and wetlands: subsistence based on fishing and wetland rice farming. I took a lot of photos that day documenting the everyday life on water of the floating village, and I was fortunate to have some of the photos I took selected to be part of the Intimate Lens Festival of Visual Ethnography in Caserta, Italy in December last year. Now you can see the full gallery on my flickr page. Here’s a taster below. Enjoy!
November 9, 2012
‘Then tell me who that
me is, or the
you understood, the any of us….’
(excerpt from Human Atlas by Marianne Boruch)
A couple of months ago I had to have an operation. On fieldwork in Cambodia at the time, I flew to Bangkok, and following a couple of uncomfortably contained weeks in hospital, I was discharged from hospital clutching a folder brimming with papers – the record of my time in hospital. A few weeks later, on a sweaty afternoon in Phnom Penh, I sat looking through the folder and came across a CD of pre-operative CT scans. As I flicked through the images, I started thinking about my perception and conception of my body and its place in my interactions in the world, something I had become acutely aware of through being sick.
As anthropologists we are encouraged to reflect on our position within our work. But I had not really considered the place of my body within my research beyond its colour and gender. Thinking about the body is nothing new to anthropology of course; in 1935 Mauss wrote about the body as a tool for experiencing the world, and hundreds of others have examined it since, but as I considered the scans, I started to think about the place of the visual in this articulation. I spent the afternoon examining each image, fascinated by this exotic presentation of my self, at once both recognisable and completely alien. A central method in anthropology is the decentralisation of the self; that movement in perception back and forth between the known and the unknown, from that which is familiar to that which is not. Looking through the images I found myself experiencing this othering, and thus contemplating how we know our physical selves – our bodies – our ultimate research tools through which we interact, communicate and contemplate.
The physicality of the body is often de-emphasised in social anthropology in favour of approaches that examine the culturally constructed meanings inscribed on it, the symbolic aesthetics presented, or the performance of power that the body enables for example. But as I slowly recovered in the unbearable heat and humidity of Phnom Penh, the physicality of my own body was impossible to evade; it was impossible to think of the understanding of my body as simply a product of specific social, cultural and historical perspectives. Kirmayer argued that the body provides a ‘structure of thought that is, in part, extra-rational and disorderly’ due to its relation to emotional, aesthetic and moral worlds; my thought processes and engagement with the world and others within it were entirely disorderly at this time due to their connection to the physical and the altered control of agency of myself and others on my body. Examining the images, meanwhile, made me contemplate the relationship between the visual and the body: how much of our understanding of the body (our own and others) is influenced by what we see and how those images are presented, particularly in a medical setting?
These images were central to the relationships I became enmeshed in during this period. They also marked a distinct interplay of power relations. In his 1991 examination of terror in Northern Ireland, Feldman argued that power is embedded in the body and thus the body is an instrument of agency in power relations. Whilst I am not suggesting that my experiences are anything resembling those faced by people in Northern Ireland during the troubles, I certainly became aware of the power the body wielded – both to myself and to others – and it was through the imaging that power was often articulated. I lost the power of control and interpretation of my body and others gained it – only certain doctors could take the pictures, certain others could read those images, whilst still others could decide the actions taken on me. My ‘docile body’, to steal Foucault’s term, caused a period of ontological insecurity which lasted some time and it seemed, as I contemplated these images, that it was initially through the visual that I began to regain power over my body, and my feeling of self.
The interactions that occurred in the hospital, although in Thailand, were firmly embedded within Western medico-legal theories and histories. I wondered how a spirit-medium or soothsayer in Cambodia would interpret the pictures (particularly as I first got sick whilst visiting a mass grave), or how others would interpret them as a layperson. The images of my body were not simple transmitters of information. They were articulations of power, tools of communication, mechanisms of thought. As I travelled through my body, via the CT images, I experienced an odd disjuncture: my inners looked alien and animal-like and brought to mind the dehumanisation I had felt whilst in hospital. At the same time I felt belonging: I recognised elements of a body that exists only inside me – my peculiarly crooked spine for example, which bends at the top of my lumbar vertebrae, but which is invisible from outside to another person. I made a journey in understanding of my body from pure physicality and hyper-awareness of its workings to aesthetic appreciation and awareness of its symbolic nature.
Now several weeks on I am intrigued by the process my body has gone through, and part of my reflecting on this caused me to produce the visual journey through my body that you can see here. There is a form of Buddhist sect in Thailand that attempts to understand the cosmos by meditating over the corpse. Perhaps I am performing some such form of meditation; right now this period is central to my fieldwork experience and has informed my initial interactions with Cambodia. How does the way I use and view my body affect my communication and relationships with others and therefore my research? Have the physicalities and resultant impact on my sense of being affected my sense of self and therefore how I interact in the world? Certainly they did at the start. The images and charts provided a shared language to certain members of my social circle and were completely exclusionary to others including, at first, myself. What effect has this had on my understanding of my place in my fieldsite?
My current research looks at contemporary understandings of and relationships with mass graves in Cambodia. I feel a more embodied concept of how the body is used to influence and coerce people, how it can be a focal point of power relations, how our own understanding of ourselves is central to the understanding of the world we engage in. The bodies that fill the graves in Cambodia are perfect examples of the manipulation of power using the body. More than that, my understanding and views of the graves themselves has been altered through this visual approach to contemplation. The CT scans offer a slice of my body in time and space; they represent a small, fragmented part of a much bigger whole, which each image hints at but none shows. The graves that exist today in Cambodia are layered by years of living; each year as the rains come the layers move and elements of bodies begin to emerge before being hidden again – bone shards, small pieces of cloth – visible in part but hidden in whole and wholly incomprehensible if you do not know what lies beneath. As I think about my own journey through my body, I also start to think about relationships with the graves; this ebb and flow of visuality that at once both offers power and voice to those skeletons whilst simultaneously removing it. I don’t mean to be facile; I’m not trying to claim that my experience lends me any deep understanding of the graves, only that it has offered a new way of looking at them as they are manifested in everyday life.
I’m not sure exactly what the visuals of my own scans symbolise to me. The losing of myself perhaps – the loss of control over myself, and the uninvited and uncontrollable agency of other people within my body. The physicality of my interactions with the world. The place of my body as a tool of communication, and as an embodiment of power relations. The beautifully alien aesthetic of the body. And the way that something that I know and own so intimately is also something from which I am completely disconnected.
July 17, 2012
Not too long ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to be a discussant at the Göttingen Ethnographic Film Festival Symposium, Participatory – what does it mean? Participatory cinema and participatory video under consideration. Participatory is a word we hear with increasing frequency in visual anthropology, particularly in relation to filmmaking (indeed I have used and written about participatory video on this blog). But the word is often bandied about with little consideration to what it actually means, either in theory or in practice.
During the GIEFF symposium we spent three days talking about this term, and its practical applications. Turns out there is almost no consensus on how the term is used, with just about everyone using and understanding the term differently: from hardcore believers who advocate no input in the video / film-making process themselves, to others whose use of the term relates only to their seeking feedback from certain participants. To still others anything anthropological is participatory, because anthropological knowledge is built through intersubjective relations with others, and thereby participatory in their very nature. Neither did we come to a consensus on the term during the three days. But we did have a lot of interesting debates, some of which were fairly energetic, particularly those concerning whether the methods robust enough to be used in academic research?
Participatory video and participatory cinema essentially have two different theoretical foundations, but as time goes on and their popularity grows, the terms are becoming increasingly blurred. Evolving out of Development, Participatory Video (PV) is about working as a group to solve a problem. It assumes an issue to be dealt with, and insists on limited or no video-making from the ‘facilitators’, but on all elements of the video-making process being done by the participating community. But there are many issues caught up in these assumptions: to assume a problem in a community inevitably creates one, although it may not be the one that is the most important or pressing to various people in the group. To assume that a group or a whole community is inherently honest, cohesive and homogenous is both unrealistic and problematic. To insist that communities would be video-making if only they knew how, and we are the ones who can teach them that is both paternalistic and derogatory.
Participatory cinema meanwhile was a term initially developed by David MacDougall in opposition to Observational Cinema: participatory cinema encouraged an active participation from the film’s subjects, although mostly with the control being maintaining by the director / film-maker. It shares some intellectual concepts of Jean Rouch’s ‘shared anthropology’, not least in that in reality the levels of participation are somewhat limited and in some cases appear to be more a wave in the direction of a contemporary buzzword.
Narratives on participatory methods tend to be celebratory. Many filmmakers and researchers (myself included) have been somewhat over simplistic in their discussions on the subject, and whilst the positive aspects of the methods have been repeatedly emphasised, there is almost no critical discourse on the subject. It does exist (for example Wheeler’s (2009) article on her work in Brazil outlined several issues) but it is hard to find. One of the subjects that repeatedly arose throughout the symposium was the potential of participatory methods in anthropological research. Anthropology is about learning about other peoples’ worlds. This might be explored through participatory methods, but can we really learn the intricacies and nuances of life in a group? Anthropological knowledge is built on intimate relationships of trust, which are invariably built up one-to-one. How do you build trust and intimacy in a group? How can you avoid ‘invisible’ power relations from acting? Can you get to the discords that are so telling about informants’ lifeworlds? What about the missing voices: who doesn’t take part and why? Do participatory methods encourage a simplified version of events that ignores the complex nuances of community issues? Is a film made using participatory methods really any more ‘honest’ and ‘authentic’ than a more traditional film? What effect does the participatory method have on the actions and attitudes of the community?
The disjunctures that inevitably exist within communities, and the nuanced complexities of life are rarely (if ever) made apparent in participatory film or video, which almost exclusively present communities as cohesive, homogenous groups with shared aims and desires. As anthropologists we should be careful of presenting such simplified stories. On the other hand, good anthropology includes reflection by the researcher on their position, assumptions, presentation of the other, and effect on the research. Participatory methods potentially help this reflection, especially where participants have active control of the media: by enabling people to present themselves, participatory methods encourages the researcher to question their presentation of others, and it potentially can encourage a more collaborative, inter-subjective building of knowledge. In addition, using methods such as PV may allow us to align our research interests with the concerns of the community, which is an ideal ethical position.
To really explore the potential of PV as a research tool we need to push beyond the celebratory nature of most presentations and critically analyse both the potentialities for use, and our motivations for using it. We need to avoid the assumptions and paternalistic approach that so often accompany discussions on participatory methods: that they avoid hierarchy and power relations; that the story heard is the most important one; that everyone who wants to be involved is able to; that visual methods are the best (or automatically culturally appropriate) mode of exploration.
This post may sound extremely critical of the use of participatory methods. That’s not my aim: I think there is a strong potential in their use both as a research tool and as a means of encouraging collaboration and a more engaged, public anthropology. But before unquestioningly adopting these methods, we have a duty to ourselves, our discipline and, more importantly, to our participants to question our motivations behind their adoption, and to assess their place in our work. Only when we have asked these questions of ourselves, and addressed our concerns, should we jump in to participate.
July 10, 2012
Don’t worry if you were not able to make the screening and exhibition of Visual Anthropology projects completed by undergraduate students from the University of Kent this year, you can see the winning films here, and the photographic exhibition has now gone virtual below. We hope you enjoy it.
(You can also see the photos in all their glory on our flickr site here)
A Visual Anthropology Screening & Exhibition
In this year’s combined screening and photography exhibition we witnessed a tremendous amount of creativity and commitment to wide anthropological engagement.
The photographic exploration of Self S P A C E S took place in the foyer of the Marlowe Building. Comprising a mixture of students’ final projects and coursework, the subjects ranged from explorations of self and other, to documenting the transformation from animal to meat in an abattoir, to photographic explorations of museum curation. A steady stream of viewers took time to admire the work (including some of our local builders, who were thoroughly impressed!) and the high quality of work was commented on by many. The judges had an incredibly hard time deciding on the prizes for each of the categories, and after an hour of deliberation, the only way they could reach a consensus was to add an extra prize. Congratulations to the following winners:
Most Innovative Use of Photography – Harriet Thomas for her project ‘Hair and Identity’
Best Anthropological Context – Freya Williams for her project on Stonewalling in North Wales
Best Overall Photograph – Special Commendation – Matt Bullard for ‘Pig in an Abattoir’
Best Overall Photograph Winner – Holly Turner for her set ‘Brutiful Derby Girls’
The video project students presented their video shorts in a full afternoon of screenings, discussions and finally the awarding of prizes. Each group of films was introduced by Kate Moore before the films were shown back to back. The directors then answered questions as a panel, picking up on themes that linked their films. The judges included Roger Just, Glenn Bowman and last year’s winner of the Roger Just Award for Visual Anthropology, Max Harrison. Hugh Brody awarded his prize for Visual Anthropology by video.
The Roger Just Prize for Visual Anthropology went to Nazly Dehganiazar for her film ‘Canterbury’s Buskers’. The Runner Up Prize was awarded to Natalie Bonet for ‘Sundays on the Southbank’.
The Hugh Brody Prize for Visual Anthropology was awarded to Harriet Kendall for ‘Voices from the Back Seat’. The runner up award went to Sarine Arslanian for ‘Connecting Strings: Armenian Spirit in London’.
Harriet Kendall’s film also won the audience prize with joint runners up awards going to Wilhelm Hodnebo’s ‘Tony’ and Gabrielle Fenton’s ‘In Dover, the Border’.
To see all the films and learn more about the context and reasons for their making please click on the links below:
Who are we?
Fish, Chips & Change — Lazlo Hewitt & Jania Kudaibergen
Connecting Strings: Armenian Spirit in London–Sarine Arslanian (Hugh Brody Prize-Runner Up)
Student Diet—Anja Hoffmann
Walk Like a Man— Francesca Wicks & Natalie Freeman
Where are we?
In Dover, The Border — Gabrielle Fenton (Audience Prize-Joint Runner Up)
Among Hectic: Buskers in Canterbury High Street— Sabrina Pascoe
Sundays on the Southbank— Natalia Garcia Bonet (Roger Just Prize-Runner Up)
We Need to Talk about Abortion— Charlotte Claesson
Underwater Nation— Rachel Singer Meier
Invisible People – Berta Norman
Voices from the Back Seat – Harriet Kendall (Hugh Brody Prize & Audience Prize)
Through Our Eyes
Tony– Wilhelm Hodnebo (Audience Prize-Joint Runner Up)
Canterbury’s Buskers– Nazly Dehganiazar (Roger Just Prize)
Seeing Comes Before Words—Aimee Tollan