Posts tagged ‘collaboration’
Welcome to our annual visual anthropology celebration of student creativity at the School of Anthropology and Conservation at the University of Kent. This includes students on the BA Social Anthropology, BSC Anthropology, BA Cultural Studies and Social Anthropology, BA History and Anthropology, BSc Human Ecology and MA in Social Anthropology and Visual Ethnography. Students have produced diverse, engaged and personal short films and interactive web based projects on people and issues that matter to them. The title of the event hints at the obstructive and productive challenges presented by the pandemic and what it has revealed about our personal and collective identities. This year our students faced the added challenge of being in lock-down during a key period in the development and completion of their projects. Some lost relatives to the pandemic.
The usual screening event in the Gulbenkian is a highlight of the year for many of us. We present it this year online with the hope that many more people can join us and that we can gather old friends and alumni. Three collections of films and interactive websites integrates the impact of the pandemic through online discussions: 1. Communities, 2. Home & Away, and 3. Identity Trips. Each creates a conversation on a common theme through us finding links and the filling the gaps between them.
Films and interactive projects will be available to view online from the 3rd June. We recommend that you watch all the films and look at the websites from the same theme in one sitting before. Each requires about one hour. No films will be shown during the online event.
Our online event on the 10th June will include extended discussions, an alumni meet-up, a prize giving and online drinks. The discussions will be an opportunity for our filmmakers to speak about their and other films and for conversations to develop with those in the films, our international alumni, colleagues and friends. We welcome back Professor Hugh Brody and Dr Yasmin Fedda to award the Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize and the New Horizons Prize. Dr Yasmin Fedda’s documentary film Ayouni, about two missing civilian activists in Syria, recently premiered at CPH: Dox Copenhagen. Professor Hugh Brody has been developing a major documentary project on cultural mapping in Canada. There will also be a Public Engagement Prize and an Alumni Award selected by prize winners from last year’s event.
You will need to register with Eventbrite to receive information of how to login with Zoom.
A diverse series of films explore the sense of community developed in a video club in France (Le Club Video), disconnection from loved one as a result of quarantine (20’s and Q…), camraderie and knowledge in a sailing club (Westbere Wednesdays), the cultural and community significance of teeth (Teeth), re-connecting unexpectedly to home in Pakistan and Japan because of the pandemic(The Transition & Covid 19) and thriving as a couple during the pandemic (A Couple in Corona). The interactive web projects explore plant based healing (Heal me Plantly), Jiu Jitsu communities (BJJC) and exchange, self-sufficiency and cohesion (Confused Planet).
To watch most of the films click here to view the session showcase.
If you also want to learn more about the films you can click on the links below.
Le Club Vidéo-Alix Mace
20’s and Quarantining in Europe -James Gallagher
Westebere Wednesdays-Isobel Howard
Teeth -Aishling Edwards
COVID-19 -Asomi Koishihara
The Transition -Aqdas Fatima
A Couple in Corona-Holly Maylin & George Cowell
Click on title links to explore.
Heal Me Plantly– Kai Greene
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Communities-Harry McQuade
Confused Planet– Lara Edwards
(2) HOME AND AWAY
This session presents a contrasting series of portraits of a newly arrived family member (Clover), a father and sheep farmer (Another Hill), a inspirational grandmother (An Ordinary Life), remembering home through archival footage (The Golden Cage) to emotionally framed portraits of fellow students (Walls & Living With Generalised Anxiety and Panic Attacks). The interactive web projects explore the impact of the pandemic on a family business (Business Inception), an experimental and graphic representation of a person (Clockwork Wolf) and flowers and family (The Flower Market).
To watch all the films as part of a vimeo showcase click here.
If you also want to learn more about the films you can click on the links below.
Another Hill– Becky Harrison
An Ordinary Life– Millie Chadwick
Walls -Felicia Dean
To watch the Golden Cage please email firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Password, your name, your surname’ in the subject to receive a password:
The Golden Cage-Ellie D.
Click on title links to explore.
Business Inception-Nicole Robson
Clockwork Wolf-Nicole Au Yeung
The Flower Market-Acacia Springer
(3) IDENTITY TRIPS
Our final series of film meditate on a revealing journey of identity prompted by the pandemic (Stay Home), explore the benefits of attention to the menstrual cycle (Seasons Inside), philosophically and poetically explore experience of time (Time and Myself), journey into Afrobeat via preparation for a performance cancelled because of the pandemic (Motherland), explores an Egyptian visual anthropologist’s long commitment to Nomadic Bedouins (Crawling on the Dust) and concludes with an auto-ethnographic and humorous exploration of an unexpected return home (Locked Down Shot). Interactive web projects aim to capture the essence of black identity touching on cultural assimilation and colourism (Black Is), and a quest for ‘sea change’ through self exploration in Horniman museum exhibitions (Sea Change).
To watch all the films as part of a vimeo showcase click here.
If you also want to learn more about the films you can click on the links below.
Stay Home -Sarah Mazza
Seasons Inside-Olivia Haywood Smith
Time & Myself -Andrea Cavallini
Motherland-Janice Yan Ying Yap
Crawling on the Dust-Farah Hallaba
Locked down shot-Ellie Kriel Daly
Click on title links to explore.
Black Is– Melissa Ngige
Sea Change– Chika Afam
Please register with eventbrite to get all the information you need to login with Zoom.
Discussions and Q and A
2.00 -2.50 pm Introduction and Communities
We will open with a poem called Nightingale by Matt Rose (Whose Future? Whose Climate? Resolutionaries 2019) out of respect for those who have died from Covid-19 and gratitude for the health and care workers who have treated and cared and continue to care for those suffering during the current pandemic.
3-3.40 pm Home and Away
3.40-4.10 Current students and Alumni Meet-Up
4.15-4.55 pm Identity Trips
5-6 Prize Giving
Public Engagement Prize-awarded by Dr Daniela Peluso and Georgia Buckland (Recipient of the Resolutionaries Public Engagement Prize 2019)
Alumni Prize-awarded by prize winning alumni (Emilia Brumpton, Noemie Degiorgis, Thomas Milroy & Kimberly Ubendran) from Resolutionaries 2019
New Horizons Prize-awarded by Dr Yasmin Fedda
Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize-awarded by Professor Hugh Brody
The prize giving will be recorded.
6-7 Online Drinks– To replace our post event drinks and food at the Gulbenkian we will meet online via Zoom. There will be the opportunity of smaller rooms and meeting places to meet the filmmakers and catch up with alumni.
For further information contact the organiser Dr Mike Poltorak on email@example.com
Top photo-Screenshots from Lock Down Shot by Ellie Kriel Daly and Seasons Inside by Olivia Haywood Smith
‘Welcome and thank you for coming. Before the films get up and running I’d like to invite us all to reflect on why we’re here and why we should care. The ideas shared today bare directly from the socially bound places and inherent relations that each film maker found themselves in. From Emilia’s discovery of the wasted abundance in bins to the experiences of reclaiming stolen power reflected by Kim. Through the woodlands and music venues of Canterbury, to the daily realities of several Greece based refugees this journey will take us through the moments of lives embodied to us through the camera’s eye. In the manifestations of what each found you will find a range of reactions to the interrelated social situations by which we’re bound. Although divided by geographical locations our films share a specific space in time and today we come together to reflect on where we’ve got to, as a rapidly dying planet inhabited by divided people, inherently unequal, these films speak to the realities that many go through – some positive, others much less so. As a planet we have many issues to solve and too much lonesome focus on this can become a minefield to behold. But together we are strong. Let the recent extinction rebellion remind us of the power of collective action against that which is wrong. And perhaps together we can come a step closer to embodying the, title of this event: Resolutionaries. Now I think that all that’s left to say is a big thank you to our judges: the alumni, Yasmin Fedda and Hugh Brody. Thank you very much, and enjoy.’ ( A Poetic introduction by Matt Rose)
To watch the films and learn more about them please click on the below links.
To get a taste of all the films in order watch our trailer:
To see which films won awards scroll down.
Technologically Ill Noemie Degiorgis
Sofi MX Ghislaine Howard
RECEPTION and REACTIONS
Public Engagement Prize
Dedicated to Lynn Bicker &
Martin Ripley -Awarded by Rob
Awarded for the website Future Fashion Index
New Horizons Prize
Awarded by Dr Yasmin Fedda
New Horizons Prize- Hana Jeal for F.I.L.T.H
New Horizons Special Commendation- Ghislaine Howard for Sofi MX
Awarded by Francesca Tesler &
Alumni Prize-Kimberly Ubendran for Flowering Rapeseed
Read her special project on The Bodies Battle for Identity.
Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize
Awarded by Professor Hugh Brody
Watch Professor Hugh Brody’s commentary on all the films here.
For wonderful photography in the dark we thank- Ollie (Oliver) Trapnell
May 21, 2019
Dear students, friends, alumni and supporters of visual anthropology at Kent,
In the year when Extinction Rebellion protests caught the public imagination and led to the declaration of a climate emergency of the UK Government we would like to share with you seventeen films that capture our students’ filmic positions on contemporary experience and the challenges and opportunities we face.
We have chosen to create a title, RESOLUTIONARIES, that captures our desire to fight for solutions to address those challenges. The tagline, REBEL- RECLAIM- RECREATE, encapsulates the route to solutions but also describes the themes of the seventeen short ethnographic documentaries we will screen on Wednesday 29th May in the Gulbenkian Cinema.
The day is a celebration of our students visual anthropological film-making creativity, honesty and engagement. We will have four prizes that reflect the value we put on video as research and intervention. Yasmin Fedda returns to award the New Horizons Prize, informed by her award winning documentary films and PhD research in transdisciplinary films. There will be a public engagement prize, funded by Allan Bicker in memory of Lynn Bicker and Martin Ripley, and awarded on the basis of the students interactive websites. This will be awarded by our Director of Research, Rob Fish.
We welcome back some of our prize winning alumni from last year, Francesca Tesler and Johannes Walter, who will award a prize on behalf of our alumni. We look forward to learning how they are and how they are using their visual anthropological skills now. The alumni prize is for the film that best captures their excitement of the value of film in their current jobs, study and activity.
We are always happy to welcome Professor Hugh Brody to award the Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize and continue his longstanding support of our programme. This prize is awarded to the most exceptional film in visual anthropological terms. Professor Hugh Brody is an inspiring anthropologist, writer, director and filmmaker whose films are informed by a deep respect for indigenous knowledge, particularly in Canada.
Please invite friends and interested students through our facebook event.
The events starts at 11.15 on Wednesday 29th May. There will be a vegan and vegetarian lunch at 12.30. Feel free to attend all or separate sections. Each session will be followed by a Q and A of the filmmakers. After the event there will be drinks in the Gulbenkian, followed by food and drinks in the Monument from 7.15, the only vegan pub in Canterbury.
We look forward to seeing you there.
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
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.
November 4, 2011
The use of visual research methods is often celebrated as a useful method in participatory research. But what happens when the research centres on vulnerable people, including people with quite profound learning disabilities? How can you conduct participatory research in these communities? Are visual methods appropriate?
During the research for my MA dissertation I had to confront all of these issues. I spent the summer of 2011 with the community of L’Arche Kent as part of the research for my MA thesis. My research explored concepts of home and community, and how it is within these structures that the community enables an environment of acceptance and equality for people with learning disabilities that is so rarely achieved in the wider society. The final product of my research was a dissertation in two parts: the film Living Together (above) and a written thesis (read it here).
Who are L’Arche Kent?
Part of the wider L’Arche International community (5,000 people in over 130 different countries), L’Arche Kent is a community of over 100 people with and without learning disabilities living in six houses across Kent. The severity of disability in the community varies from mild with only minimal support needs to profound with intensive one-to-one, or sometimes two-to-one 24-hour support needs. The ages in the community range from 0 – 60 something, and right now there are people from 17 different countries in the community.
Evidently, if I wanted to conduct inclusive research in such a community I had to use a method which not only cut across age barriers, but which was also understandable to people from different countries as well as accessible to people of many differing abilities. Which meant I needed a very accessible research methodology, something that would enable participation by even the most disabled people. And so I decided upon video.
Video lent itself to this research because of its flexibility and the number of ways it encourages participation between the researcher and the people they are collaborating with. It also meant I could produce a final version of the research which was accessible to the community. Video really lets people take part in a way that more traditional research methods do not. This is especially true with people who are non-literate and / or non-verbal, or with learning disabilities of varying degrees, who may not be able to undergo long conversations or interviews.
Cameras, video and TV are a part of everyday life here in the UK, and as such are understood and understandable to the majority of people. Add to this the flexibility that filming provides and we start to see some of the advantages of using this method: I had people filming me, filming themselves, filming each other, putting on plays for the camera (alone and in groups), directing me and each other, interviewing me and each other, helping in the editing, taking part just by being in the room and occasionally shouting suggestions. People borrowed cameras to film their own lives; some people simply enjoyed watching what was going on. The beauty of a camera (both still and moving) is the number of people who want to take part. And because people were having fun it made my research really easy – I had no issues with access, no problems with getting people to take part and most importantly no issues of people feeling disconnected and therefore exploited by the research. This also meant that the community had equal ownership of the project. All of these meant that most people within the community wanted the project to succeed as much as I did, which made a huge difference, and helped balance the ethnographer – informant relationship in their favour.
Using Steady Wings to improve accessibility
One of the major factors helping make video accessible in my research was the use of Steady Wings. Designed by filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich, Steady Wings are an amazing piece of equipment which offer a range of filming possibilities outside of the traditional norms. You can see them in use during Sarah’s portions of Living Together – nearly all of her filming was done using this equipment. In my research they helped make a camera easy to use for less mobile people, and less intimidating for many others – having the camera mounted on a set of Steady Wings allowed people to easily hold and move with the camera, pass it amongst themselves, or simply explore different angles and views – offering different views of the world, smoother movements, and the freedom to play without worry. They took the worry out of handling unfamiliar equipment and made it fun, and ultimately led to a much greater involvement by some of the disabled members of the community than I originally imagined possible.
Of course as with any research there are some aspects of using film that need care and consideration: informed consent was a concern; ensuring people understood what was happening was sometimes challenging, although not as challenging as managing the expectations of some members of the community who thought they were going to become famous Hollywood stars following my time in the community, and the one problem that I did not forsee was the difficulty in getting back some of the borrowed cameras at the end of the research period! Whilst some have argued that any research with vulnerable people is exploitative, I personally believe that so long as proper care and consideration is taken, these issues are no more complex in conducting research with people with learning disabilities than with any other group, and in fact film offers quite the reverse, allowing people to speak for themselves, rather than have others speak for them.
I really enjoyed my time with L’Arche Kent. As well as being integral for my MA thesis, the filmed work has enabled me to produce a number of shorts which L’Arche Kent are using on their website, and I continue to be involved in the community. My findings on home and community made a contribution to the literature, but in the end the learning I will take away from this was that research in difficult circumstances becomes, if not easy, then at least possible, if you use a method that allows people to be involved as much as possible and to feel really involved. I’m not sure there is a better method than video for this, but that point remains open to debate.
August 21, 2011
Homelessness is a key social issue in Canterbury, one that has become more serious as a result of the recession. Some of our students have either worked or volunteered for local organisations working on the issue. Others have engaged with homelessness in written or video projects. See for example Becca Toop’s project ‘Homeless but not Helpless‘ and Vanessa Maire and John Ireland’s project ‘Counting Down‘. We’re happy to announce that we have built a strong relationship with Porchlight, one of the key NGOs working on the issue in Canterbury and Kent. Students on our MA programme in Visual Anthropology now have the opportunity of doing a placement with Porchlight and develop new creative media products of use to the organisation. In turn our students learn about the collaborative process and develop media production skills.
You can read here the results of research carried out on homeless provision by the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent.
November 5, 2010
Can a photo ever be the material realisation of the relationship between photographer and subject? This diagram explores the relationship between the subject and the photographer, and whether it can ever meet in the middle and become a true collaboration, or whether some vestige of power always still remains with the photographer? I’m just not sure…