Posts from the ‘Caroline B’ Category
Robert Frank commented that ‘photography must contain the humanity of the moment.’ What better combination then than photography and anthropology? In their final term year some visual anthropology students at the University of Kent have combined the two to explore different aspects of contemporary life, from the experience of refugee children in Kent, the use of body art as political expression, and the movement of seafood from ocean to stomach. With unique insights into aspects of life, these projects explored the humanity of the moment, a selection of which is displayed below.
The photographs are part of the wider exhibition of visual projects that came out of Kent this year, and continue the tradition started by previous year’s projects: Inter-reflexions; Peopling Places; and Self Spaces. You can scroll through the photos and project descriptions by clicking on one and then using the arrow keys to navigate.
@Porchlight1974 @KentSAC @CTunaker @Pelaris
Carin Tunaker is a PhD student in social anthropology at the University of Kent. Her research examines the conditions and circumstances that contribute toward LGBTQ youth homelessness in East Kent. Carin and the co-director for this project, Prem Konieczny from Porchlight, used participatory film-making as a research tool for this project. Below she explains the process and the outcomes both for the young people and for her own research.
The film was a project by and for young homeless people living in Porchlight’s young persons’ services in Canterbury and Tonbridge. It follows three young people, Josh, Shaunagh and Michael, through their journeys as homeless youth living in hostels in Kent. In making this film, they wanted to show people that being young and homeless isn’t always what you think it might be; they wanted to challenge negative stereotypes of homeless people and show what the ‘reality’ of homelessness is, for them.
There were never any grandiose intentions for this film project, it simply started out with me, as a Support and Resettlement worker in Porchlight, asking the residents in the project where I worked, to sit down and brainstorm with me about perhaps making a film on homelessness. I had little hope of engagement and excitement about the project, because engaging young people who are going through a traumatic time in their lives in something as time consuming as making a film, seemed a distant and optimistic idea. But after a few false starts, one young person, Shaunagh, who had done a course at college in film, decided she felt confident enough to take the lead and motivate others to join in too. All in all, around 15 young people from Porchlight took part in the process of making this film. There was one simple guideline: the film had to be about homelessness. The rest was up to them.
After careful consideration, the girls decided that they wanted to make a film about youth homelessness, to show people what it’s REALLY like. They often hear homeless people described as rough sleepers, dirty beggars, drug or alcohol misusers and generally a drain of society’s resources – descriptions that they felt do not fit them in any shape or form and they wanted to challenge this. So then they had to figure out HOW to make their point. Initially, they thought that just filming different activities and doing a general tour of the hostel would be enough, but it wasn’t long before they realised that they needed some hard evidence of people’s ignorance and misconceptions. Reluctantly, all agreed that they would need to go into town and ask the general public for their opinions – on film!
We borrowed equipment from the Visual Anthropology programme at the University of Kent, but at first, nobody wanted to touch the camera and nobody wanted to be ON camera, which gave a bleak outlook for the entire project. To take the pressure off, I decided to keep the camera in the hostel’s office and told the service users that they could wait until something ‘interesting’ happened and come and get it when they felt inspired and wanted to use it. Eventually they did take the camera away and returned to me with it full of footage of interviews that they had done with each other on their ideas of youth homelessness. Most was not useable because of issues with sound and/or image, but because they had now broken down the barrier of fear of the camera, the film project could now mature into something that they felt capable of taking ownership of.
Week by week, they got more and more confident with the camera and eventually we could have a session talking about HOW to use the camera, what to think about in terms of positioning of the subject, background noise and other technicalities. Keeping the camera on site for ‘interesting’ moments turned out to be a much better idea than trying to produce interesting moments on demand, so this is how we proceeded. All the service users taking part were dealing with issues of their own during this time period, such as difficult family relationship problems, depression, self-harm, problems in college, trying (and mostly failing) to find work, relationship problems and so on. These, of course, took precedence, so finding ‘good’ days to film was always a challenge.
Eventually, despite personal fears and inhibitions, a group of our young service users took to the streets of Canterbury and bravely approached strangers to ask them what they thought a homeless person looks like. The replies were shocking and showed exactly the kind of negative stereotypes that they were expecting to hear – and worse! There were comments such as homeless people are dirty, disgusting, smelly, have a lack of personal hygiene, and (a personal favourite), they always have long hair (!). While filming in Canterbury town centre, I started out as the cameraman, since nobody else dared to do it, but after a few of our interviews, confidence grew in the group and eventually everyone had a go at either asking questions or holding the camera.
Film as Method
Most of the filming was done by the young people, but my colleague Prem Konieczny (who edited the film) and I also did some. I took the camera with me to any activity I did with the service users and rigged it up for some group discussions as well, for which I asked the questions. I had my own agenda for this film project: I wanted to get the service users to engage in meaningful conversations about their ideas of what ‘home’ is to them, and what ‘homelessness’ actually means, which in turn would inform my own research into youth homelessness. A lot of the conversations ended up far less serious than intended, with more banter and jokes than thoughtful ideas; breaking through this hurdle of protective chitchat was quite challenging. One of the more successful ideas was to put the questions up on the wall behind the camera and allow the service users to speak freely about them, rather than me probing and asking questions directly to them. This somehow seemed to give them more power over the conversation and removed the teacher/student aspect that can sometimes feel more like an interrogation.
By allowing the service users to be in charge of this project, not only did they get a huge confidence boost themselves and learned a great deal in the process, but it was also a method for me to open different channels of thought and reflection from them, as opposed to normal casual conversations or interviews. As an anthropologist in the hostels, I had spent significant time trying to get them to talk about these concepts in general conversation and interviews, with mixed results. Suddenly, with them in charge of the camera and their own voice, they felt the need to put words to their thoughts in a way that was never necessary in my previous inquisitions as ethnographer and fieldworker. Rouch, in his 1973 essay ‘The Camera and Man’, couldn’t be more right when he said that “The situation is clearly this: the anthropologist has at his disposal the only tool (the participating camera) that offers him the extraordinary possibility of direct communication with the group he studies-the film he has made about them.”
I never had any intention for ‘true objectivity’ or a search for the ‘truth’ for this film, if ever such a thing existed (Pink outlines this debate well in the introduction to her book Doing Visual Ethnography). As Vertov’s concept of the ‘cine-eye’ dictates, my own intent and actions inevitably shaped this film. However, as Rouch advocated, I did engage in ‘audiovisual reciprocity’ where the participants were a part of the process, from start to finish: the service users that took part in this project had a say in what the film should show; the participants “staged” the reality that they wanted to portray publicly. In a way, it feels like fulfilling the dream of Jean Rouch, when he said that this type of ethnographic filmmaking will help us make a ‘shared anthropology’; “Which is to say, the time of the joint dream of Vertov and Flaherty, of a mechanical cine-eye-ear and of a camera that can so totally participate that it will automatically pass into the hands of those who, until now, have always been in front of the lens. At that point, anthropologists will no longer control the monopoly on observation; their culture and they themselves will be observed and recorded. And it is in that way that ethnographic film will help us to “share” anthropology.”
Once the filming was done, Prem and I started the painstaking process of sieving through hours of footage, much of it unusable, to find the hidden gems – footage of the service users interviewing each other and thinking seriously about their own situations, about homelessness, about being young and living in a hostel, about their potential futures, hopes and dreams. We constructed a rough draft of the clips and invited the service users to the Visual Anthropology lab at the university to watch the draft film and comment. They deemed the film inconclusive, and a bout of new shooting ensued. They had a clear idea of the direction they wanted the film to take, so they constructed interviews with each other targeting the information they felt was missing. This part of the project was truly inspiring, since at this point the service users had really taken charge of their own film and displayed a proud ownership of it.
The young people that joined us in the Visual Anthropology lab had mostly never visited a university and never thought they would ever do so either, and after the end of this some had grown aspirations for taking up study and possibly even continue onto university to pursue a career in filmmaking, grades permitting. Seeds of hope and possibilities were sown and self-esteem grew and blossomed in a way that you could almost see and feel. It all culminated in a cold but sunny afternoon at the UKC campus, where some final shots were done in the UKC campus’ labyrinth.
I was a mere bystander while Shaunagh walked through the labyrinth, making her way to the centre, through the maze of paths, filmed by her friends from the hostel. The shot captured the apogee of the film project, where the service users thoughts and realisations met in the middle of the maze, expressed by Chelsea who exclaimed in realisation: “Hey, the maze totally symbolises everything about this film, about us and what it is we want to say!”
Finally we added the music. Porchlight had for some time collaborated with an agency called Rhythmix, who visited our hostels to teach our young people to make their own music. Michael (a.k.a. ‘Ike Boi’), who appears in the film as one of the main characters, provided most of the music that he had created together with Rhythmix, and another service user Amy provided the songs for the start and end credits with her own wonderful talent.
It took over a year for the film to make its way from the end of filming to the finished product. In that year, our service users moved on, moved out, and quite possibly forgot temporarily about their experiences as filmmakers. Unfortunately some made themselves un-contactable as well (purposefully or un-purposefully), so they missed the opportunity to see the film in its finished form, screened at the Lupino Screening Room at UKC in November 2014. Those who came told us they felt very proud to have taken part in so
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’
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)
May 6, 2012
This post is posted on behalf of Gabrielle Fenton, a third year undergraduate at the University of Kent, and founding member of both TRIBE, and co-organiser of Breaking Bubbles, a conference supported by the RAI, the University of Kent and Radical Anthropology Group.
On the 3rd and 4th of March, I was one of many other anthropology undergrads from the University of Kent to organize a national undergraduate anthropology symposium. The theme was: Breaking Bubbles, Anthropology For Our Future. We weren’t quite sure what was going to come out of such an enterprise, but we knew that we wanted to meet other passionate students, to be confronted to other approaches to anthropology, to collectively aim at an anthropology that would be for the future. We hoped that as long as we created a good platform, interesting content would follow.
Over 100 students attended from 8 different universities, bringing with them their different anthropological backgrounds: biological, material, visual, social, etc… Over the two days, students presented projects and ideas on topics as varied as ‘human roots’ and ‘lived futures’, but through the variation, one theme was recurrent: undergrads want and need fieldwork, they want to physically engage with anthropology.
As an undergrad who sometimes feels that it is difficult to get out of a passive learning mode when sitting in a lecture room, this experience allowed me to engage in a much more dynamic form of learning. The presentations also showed how creative students are when enacting and using anthropology outside of their lecture rooms, such as a group of students from UCL who are trying to make anthropology available in primary schools. This creativity definitely enhanced my enthusiasm for the discipline, and I am pretty sure that this sentiment was shared by many others as the discussions after the talks were always very animated.
I think we succeeded in breaking bubbles, and that an anthropology for our future was a main driving force over the weekend. However, we do not see this as a finished project at all, which is why we have uploaded all the videos on this OAC page and invite every one to take part in the online discussion. You can also check out more photos from the event here. Also, the means that we used to create the platform were quite primitive and we hope to receive critiques and advice so that future events can break many more bubbles…
February 23, 2012
Ever wondered what visual anthropology is all about? What does it include, and what sort of research is conducted by visual anthropologists? We thought you might, so we’ve put together a short video compiling some of the work from the MA programme at the University of Kent, UK.
The programme teaches students a range of visual techniques to allow students to explore the world of anthropology – techniques ranging from still photography, to digital video making, to social media. With a number of external experts teaching on the course (for example the photographer James Kriszyk, the editor Alan Miller, campaign filmmaker Zoe Broughton to name but three examples), as students on this course we learnt a huge amount, not just about the academic applications of visual anthropology, but also how it can feed into the wider world at large, and ultimately therefore a more publically engaged anthropology. As a result our final projects have ranged from exploring life within a community of people with and without learning disabilities in Kent, to documenting threatened traditional medical systems in Ladakh, to looking at the impacts of their work on human rights workers, and much more besides. But enough from me: watch the video and explore what visual anthropology is all about yourself.