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TRANSPARENCIES 2018 celebrated the creativity and initiative of our students, how they gave of themselves and collaborated to be able to realise the films they wanted. This year we awarded five prizes, each with distinct criteria. Professor Hugh Brody awarded the Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize.
Professor Paul Allain awarded prizes for films that uniquely revealed presence and embodiment. Yasmin Fedda awarded the New Horizons Prize. A Public Engagement Prize in memory of Lynn Bicker and Martin Ripley was awarded by Joe Spence. Visiting Alumni, Charlotte Austwick, Hannah Evans and Alice-Amber Keegan awarded the Alumni Audience Award. You can read more about the prizes and what stood out in the films that were awarded below. The prizes give recognition to exceptional projects, but they also extend the audience and reach of the conversation the films initiate as audio visual gifts. The alumni lunch was an opportunity for current students to hear from alumni what new horizons are open to them. You can view below the video messages from Christiane Howe in Australia, Ruth Krause in Germany and Soffia Kristinsdottir in Costa Rica.
The cultural association of film with entertainment means we are very used to consuming documentaries and then moving onto the next one. While the documentary may seem to be the end result of the process of the filmmaker, for us the viewing can be the start of a journey. All the films screened today have emerged out of unique personal histories and intentions. They are the media manifestations of personal research journeys that gives us cause for conversation and reflection. The symbolic cameras (see below in brochure) was one artistic way that the students communicate this is in a material form. They speak to the issues and concerns addressed in the films while revealing or hinting at the personal intentions of the filmmakers. That is why it is really important to see the films as the start of a conversation, as an audio-visual gift to us and wider audiences, to reflect and learn more about our place in the world and our aspirations for the world we want to live in.
The Q and A after each series of films was an opportunity to start that conversation by exploring how the films spoke to each other. Another opportunity are the interactive websites in which you can learn more about the intentions of the films and how they are located within visual anthropology and social anthropology more broadly. The Public Engagement prize is explicit recognition of the interactive website and its ability to reach out to wider audiences. To view the films and learn more about the projects through the interactive websites click on the links below. We encourage you to make comments on their websites to reciprocate the audio-visual gift.
With thirty one films Transparencies 2018 was the largest screening of visual anthropology projects in the long history of visual anthropology at Kent. It necessitated two parallel screenings in the morning, in the Gulbenkian Cinema and Marlowe Lecture Theatre 2.
1. GULBENKIAN CINEMA
Our first series of films explored the challenges of migration and the current refugee crisis. For Alex Douglas Bailey her Jamaican father is the focus of her exploration. Shalini Arias Hurtado travels to Berlin to try and meet refugees in the Tempelhof refugee centre. Ellie Bush travels to the Calais jungle refugee camp to learn about the life of volunteers. Liam Rowan takes us on a powerfully visual journey, pregnant with repeating motifs, that force reflection on our engagement with migration as we join Liam on a walk to Dover.
Images from WENDEING, were used for our poster above.
These three films use artistry as their methodology or focus of exploration. Sophie Bell’s focus is her sister’s band and their inspirations. Judith explores sexuality and art practice in a creative and inspirational way. Aadam Khan richly produced soundscapes and pointed interviews encourage us to better feel and understand anxiety.
Nature is explored in three very distinct ways in these three moving films. In Forest Alone, Georgious Ntazos, makes us aware of the forest in and around campus and the politics and effects of coppicing. What do the trees think is his underlying question? Liona Jupolli narrates a mystical exploration into her experience of Jungian synchronicity. The future of the planet and climate change is explored through the motivations of Miguel Alexiades’ Anthropocene module, in Liam Hodgetts film.
2. MARLOWE SCREENING ROOM, MLT2
From the mysteries of mapping, via the creation of community in Margate and ghosts in Canterbury to the five rings of combat, these films take us on a journey of simulation in and around Canterbury.
These three films that encourage our appreciation of the inbetween. Andrew Brittain, explores the political situation in his native Ashford, Derya Iyaz, goes on a journey to Whitstable with a local busker and Alice Brucass counterposes two different ideas of masculinity.
These films demand our attention to their desire for change. Just Listen is Aisha Al-Abdallah’s creative exploration of young women of colour, their voices are powerfully critical and emotive. Rowan Mohammed asks for an appreciation of what it means to be non-binary. Danielle Fletcher, takes us on her journey of transformation to her new found activism.
ALUMNI LUNCH AND MESSAGES
We were very happy to welcome alumni to the lunch and to screen messages from visual anthropology alumni. Our current students wanted to know where current alumni are and how they got into their current jobs.
Ruth Krause now works at a video journalist, Tv reporter and producer for DW, the German International TV station. She mainly covers environmental topics in Latin America and Africa.
Soffia Kristinsdottir. won the Hugh Brody runner up prize in 2016 for ‘Asocial‘. She sends her message from the Pura Vida Hostel in Costa Rica.
A local gaming store is the focus of Jess Moorhouse’s loving examination of Canterbury’s haven of gaming. Thomas Hessom meets Japanese young people and journeys with them to understand their idea of home. Cafe des Amis will never be same after you go behind the scenes with Adrian Cotkova’s roving camera. Gabriele Zukauskaite’s focus is home education, we meet those who were home educated, those who home educate and those who intend to.
OUT ON A LIMB
These films go out on a limb. Johannes Walter travels to the Orkney Islands, to reconnect a Ni Vanuatu woman to her family with photos and video of her family. Surviving is powerfully truthful, ironic, cathartic and inspirational. It confronts us with our assumptions ‘We are all suffering, let’s be honest’. Madeline Spencer tries to understand her brother and mend the relationship in this moving journey to the past. We are left uplifted.
These four films subtly suggest solutions to the challenges of being active in the future. Furusato focuses on a Zen Buddhist Japanese temple in London. Emily Malkin takes us on a deeply personal journey of activism in three parts, each a different facet of our need to act for change. Ellie MacPherson uses the camera to better know her grandfather, whose ailing eyesight means he will never see the film. Milly Wernerus takes us to a snowy forest to understand the joys and possibilities of living off-grid.
Current SAC PhD student Joe Spence showed a trailer and gave an update on ‘From the Cubby with Love’ which won the Audience Prize last year in last year’s Caremotions. He then awarded the prize for public engagement in memory of Lynn Bicker and Martin Ripley, one of the subjects of ‘From the Cubby with Love’. This award was funded by Alan Bicker.
Public Engagement Prize
Jack and I, Madeleine Spencer
Madeline Spencer, in her film “Jack and I”, charts the changing relationship between her and her brother through childhood and up to the present day. This deeply intimate and personal account accentuates the fragilities of family life whilst softly voicing the importance of reunification and forgiveness in the wake of rupture. Spencer’s project is especially courageous given that it not only engages, but attempts to reconcile through film making, painful and potentially unresolved tensions between loved ones. As the credits rolled her audience appeared moved, perhaps guided to reflect on their own lives and family trajectories; emboldened even, to account for lost time and rectify ‘the gap’ (as Spencer puts it) in those relationships. In accompaniment to her film, Spencer offers a well-structured and easily navigable website, populated with a variety of audio/visual materials and engaging reflexive commentaries as to the production process. This is a film for anybody who has known separation in their family, and a hopeful reminder as to the possibility of reconciliation. (Joe Spence)
Glass Walls, Danielle Fletcher
Danielle Fletcher, in her film “Glass Walls”, sets out on a mission to an Essex Pig Save event to discover for herself, whether popular media perceptions of animal rights activists are justified. The film maker takes centre stage, declaring her biases at the outset and expressing humility to reconsider her opinions based on her observations. This reflexive approach successfully engages popular audiences, who are encouraged to remain similarly open minded to new ways of thinking. In contrast with many films on the topic of animal rights, which rely on authoritative and grotesque images to force messages across (for example see Earthlings 2005), Fletcher employs powerful subtlety and restraint. Much is left to the audience’s imagination, and it is this clever omission of ‘shock tactics’ which creates room for more productive dialogue across ideological divides. In addition to the film Fletcher offers a website where video diaries draw audiences deeper into the production process, and a directory of activist resources implore continued engagement with the subject. All considered, Fletcher serves up a masterclass in public engagement. (Joe Spence)
Paul Allain Prize
Winner The Paul Allain Prize
Go Kambak. Johannes Walter
‘This film won because of its capacity to shift time and space as film can do as well as its moving content. Its main focus was on a young mother looking at photos of her extended family, taken by Johannes, now separated by years and 1000s of miles – from Vanuatu to Orkney. Johannes, as filmmaker, was the catalyst that collided these things together. The impact on the film’s protagonist was extraordinary for how she reacted: laughing, crying, swearing, gasping, often all at the same time. The camera just watched, impassive. Her reactions revealed the pain of separation, the joy of discovery, the celebration of memories which coursed through her body and voice as she grabbed at and drunk in the photographs, presented to us witnesses by being overlayed on to the film. Although not technically perfect, it demonstrated the power of the simplicity of allowing a remarkable human story to be told through film.’ (Paul Allain).
Synchronicity, Liona Jupolli
‘Liona was brave and bold in all her choices and was so actively engaged both with and in her film. It was creative and risky, sometimes beautiful. It didn’t always work, yet was pushing at what was possible and, as a result, I immediately wanted to see it again, to understand more. Why were she and her group dancing in the streets and underpasses of Barcelona? What did her dance through Canterbury bluebells tell us about her simple one word title, her theme? Her own investment in her work somehow made us seek our own synchronicity with it. Such attempts and creativity are surely to be celebrated.‘ (Paul Allain)
New Horizons Prize
The New Horizons prize was awarded by the award-winning documentary filmmaker Yasmin Fedda, whose films have focused on themes from Edinburgh bakeries to Syrian monasteries. Her films have been BAFTA-nominated and screened at numerous international festivals including Sundance. Her undergraduate background in anthropology and master’s training in visual anthropology at Manchester was inspiring to many students.
Winner: Being There by Jess Moorhouse
Runnner up: Breaking the Binary by Rowan Mohammed
“Breaking The Binary (‘We do not exist!’) was a conversation starter on the existence of gender non-binary people. That is, people who are neither strictly man nor strictly woman, but any combination of between, both, and not. Mostly it was a snapshot of non-binary individuals as real people (wild, right), with a splash of the fact that there does not yet exist any formal legal structures that recognise the status of being not of the binary. The fact that this film cannot be shown without worry is point towards the precarious situation non-binary and other trans people may face. There is, however, increasing material out there on the existence of non-binary people, and it is with my hope that films like these may be shown freely in the future.” Rowan Mohammed
Alumni Audience Award
This award replaced our previous audience prize and acknowledges the importance of our alumni’s engagement and support of our students in making the next step in their journey as visual anthropological filmmakers and researchers.
Charlotte Austwick won the Hugh Brody Runner Up Prize for her film ‘Welcome to the Country’ that was screened in Resolations 2015. She recently worked as a film co-ordinator for the Kenya Quest Expedition, a wildlife conservation and humanitarian aid expedition. Hannah Evans screened her film ‘About Dad’ in Resolations 2015. After graduation she worked in the Campaigns Teams at Restless Development, the youth- led International Development Agency, drawing on her experience volunteering at Amnesty International UK. She left Restless to be a Team Leader with the Youth- Citizenship NGO Pravah, in India, supporting a team of young people in a community engagement programme in Rajasthan. She is now working as Programme Coordinator for Wikimedia UK- focusing on their diversity target to make Wikipedia a more diverse source of open knowledge. Alice-Amber Keegan graduated in 2015 and after teaching English in China for a year is now doing a funded PhD at Durham University on birthing centres and parenting.
Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize
In November 2017 Professor Hugh Brody received an honorary doctorate at the University of Kent in recognition of decades of research and work with indigenous peoples. You can view his inspirational speech to graduands at the Graduation Ceremony in Canterbury Cathedral from 6.00.
Professor Jim Groombridge, our Head of School, introduces him at the beginning of the clip.
Unfortunately Professor Hugh Brody was not able to join us in person, but he viewed a selection of films and made comments on them. Dr Rob Fish, our Director of Research, stepped in to share Hugh’s comments and make his own comments of the day. He speaks about how the screening served as an introduction to the department and how the films speak to you in your own experiences.
Gabriele Zukauskaite. – Boats And Forests
‘The narrow boat gliding along a canal is captivating, and the interview that sets up the first part of the film is beautifully shot. I loved the image of the young mother filmed from a low angle, standing up against the sky, the sun and its beams of light behind her head. She stood there tall and strong, with strong and clear words about life and children. I also liked the way tight shots were used – the tying up of the boat, for example, to create a sense of watching closely, of being there. Then the fade out at the end of the boats section and cut to the children and then a wonderful shot of two feet at each side of the frame, and a fallen tree, the forest, holding the centre of the image. And the final line is so great: ‘Don’t have children if you can’t be nice to them. It’s not that hard.’
Adriana Cotkova – Of Sizzlers and Men
‘The restaurant, the place where “an intimate art should be shared in lightly” – that’s a great thought to set up the feel as well as a theme of this film. I was fascinated by the place itself, the work, the energy and enthusiasm. And the images worked brilliantly to take us there and hold us. The camera work is so good, as is the sound quality; and I liked the flow of the edit, the use of such strong material to make it even stronger. I thought that the mix of interview with fly-on-the-wall observation was very skilfully done. Everyone seemed so at ease with the presence of the camera. Classical documentary being done well!There are many powerful images, but I especially liked the shot through the window, with cacti in the foreground and an outside world beyond. Also the window cleaner, at that same window – wonderful! A very compelling and elegantly made film.’
Ellie Bush – We are Here
‘This is a film close to my heart – I spent some time at that warehouse in Calais a couple of years ago, and it was a treat to be taken back there. And a treat to see how this film reminded us that the refugee problem at Calais did not go away just because the authorities there brutally cleared the Jungle camp. The opening of this film is especially strong, I thought, both for its images of posters and the intensity of the sound-track. I found the shot of the two people in the front of the car, driving along and sharing thoughts about wha they are doing to be very compelling. Light problems within the warehouse were obviously quite a challenge, but the interview with the organiser there is still compelling. It was good, and important, to be in Calais, realising that the refugees are sleeping rough, having their tents wrecked or impounded by local police. Many thanks to Ellie Bush for this.‘
Emily Malkin – Respect Existence or Expect Resistance
‘What a great title for a film! And it is a great film – impressive in many ways, but especially because it takes us to a flow of protests. I was particular impressed by the NHS demo sequence, knowing how hard it can be to get voices from within a large and noise event. Each face seemed to be a reason for hope. The cut to the plastic sequence was wonderful, and the sudden appearance of a beautiful beach, and then the image of the bits and pieces of plastic that had been gathered and, as someone says, begins to look like an art work. But the powerful surprise in this film was the shift to the father-daughter relationship, the two of them sitting together, a little self-conscious – not because of the camera, I thought, but because that’s the way it often is between fathers and daughters: the image, the set up, the way the camera was placed, captured something so true and somehow magical. And crucial to understanding the genesis of this film, and of resistance itself. And then the final shot, of the lorry loaded with pigs heading into the abattoir – expressing both failure to save the pigs and a continuing resolve to resist. This is a strong and powerful film.’
Johannes Walter – Go Kambak
‘I loved this back and forth between Vanuatu and some cold northern part of the British Isles. The contrasts of climate, pace, voice. The earlier footage, giving glimpses of Vanuatu and of the people we meet, is fascinating. Even the speeded up and blurred quality – creating a paradox: the place where life moves slowly is rushing along – making a point about memory perhaps; but making me think. I found myself very much liking the film-maker as gentle source of reminders – questions, interest and then photographs. Then the astonishing sequence when Donnelyn is laughing and weeping, all at the same time, in a single complicated burst of feelings, when looking at photos of those she loves who are far far away. I also liked the way some of the stills she is looking at are set into the left side of the frame, so we see the image and her. The final images, carrying the end credits, are unforgettable: using a horizontally split screen to show the two roads, the one in Vanuatu, the other where the family now lives…. Wonderful. Then the last words: ‘I have sent the film back…’Maybe this breaks the rules on length, but it’s a pleasure to watch!’
Francesca Tesler. – Furusato
‘ I very much liked the way this began with a screen split into three, and then resolving into just the one. Then the move into a Buddhist ceremony – we don’t know where we are, or what is going on…. All this shot with elegance. The interview with the Buddhist priest is wonderful – the way he holds a sheet of paper, his notes for what he wants to tell us perhaps, but never looks at them… His quiet dignity. This interview set a tone for the film – this is about something of such deep importance to all who are part of it. And it is a celebration of culture carried by the strength of the images and the quality of the sound. (Though I was sorry that the long prayer did not get translated and subtitled.) As I began to realise that this was culture in exile, the film became more and more compelling. And the wonderful, central thought: cultural practice can be sustained, and given all kinds of new intensity because it is not taking place ‘at home’. So the commitment to what we see is coming from having left where it originated. The shots of the box and the cupboard at then seemed to be full of poignancy. The whole film fascinating and beautifully made.’
Jess Moorhouse – Being There
‘This is perhaps the most surprising of the films I saw: people playing board games….I very much liked the way the film shows us games and the way they are played with very strong and fascinating images and glimpses of all the strange complexity of utterly unfamiliar rules and counters and dice. And I liked the way we went from evening to evening, with a sense that each was special. The camera work to show all this is strong and clear. But for me the power of this film came from something else: as I watched I was suddenly very moved by what it meant for these young men and women to gather together and play games. I felt I was being taken to a powerful if underlying issue of loneliness, and the combating of loneliness. There is a quality to this film that is gentle and respectful – for me, it is these qualities that gave it its strong and surprising intensity of feeling. A fascinating piece of work.’
Milly Wernerus – Off Grid – A day in the life
‘The snow is a character in this film – I loved the way it seemed to be happening in some very remote northern world. Was I being transported to the Canadian subarctic? This made the idea of living off the grid so real and especially compelling. I very much liked the sequences that showed the working of wood. These are beautifully shot, and I thought I could watch forever this remaking of the natural world to meet everyday needs. The splitting of a log into roof shakes is wonderful. I was also very struck by the decision by the film-maker to include herself in shot as a mix of interviewer and conversationalist. And to leave her appreciative laughter on the sound track. Then the final shot, with the film-maker getting up from an interview and walking towards the camera – to switch it off, to end the film. That was a very nice touch.’
Maddie Spencer – Jack and I
‘A snowy day, a young may playing a guitar… The film begins with strong and mood setting images. Then the box of letters. I thought the way we saw and heard bits of a letter was very powerful – drawing me in, giving me a sense of great reality. I found every moment of this film compelling. And it built the story the blend of history ad memory, with great skill. The pieces are put together – Jack’s difficulties, the difficulties these present to the family; the father who is so loving and so absent; the pain of memory and the use of exploration of time to deal with pain; the resolve of the sister to get her brother back. The stills, showing old photos of the father, the family, happy times; and the surprising scenes from some old video footage. These were cut Ito the live-action footage to great effect. I had a sense of being taken right into the lost time. This film seemed to me to be utterly honest, a sharing of a story with us that was very much theirs; and the skillful way the shots and interview materials build the story meant that I was held every moment by being allowed into something so personal. Yet it also resonated – and I am sure that many many families can watch this and see some part of themselves.’
Hugh Brody Runner Up Prize : Jack and I
I choose this for its combination of strong film making skill and remarkable emotional power. It is wonderfully personal but also has large and wide resonances. I think that this is a remarkable achievement – and a tribute to everyone who is shown. The openness and honesty; and the skill with which it is shot and edited. There are many reasons for admiring this film. And one of them is that, for all the difficulties it spells out and owns up to, it delivers a message of hope. The film-maker takes us to lost time to make sure no more time is lost. Thank you for a great piece of work.
Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize: Furusato, Francesca Tesler
This is a beautifully made film that takes us to a culture in exile. It is rich with images and compelling sound. It delivers something special and surprising. The central interviews are straightforward and powerful. The feeling it gives for Buddhism, and for culture in exile, seem to me to be remarkable. There is also great subtlety in the film making. The pacing of interviews, the way the light plays, the mix of shots, and even the wonderful formal garden that so well symbolises the large being retained and caught for its essence in the small. As documentary film must aim to do – so we are reminded that film itself is the Japanese garden. This is a film that gives rise to and allows space for many kinds of thought and appreciation. A great treat to watch. Thank you!
After a long and inspiring day, we all exited to the Gulbenkian bar for drinks and to continue the conversation.
In December 2015 the School of Anthropology and Conservation was privileged to welcome alumnus Gonzalo Chacon for a screening and discussion of the award winning documentary ‘The Silence of the Flies’ for which he was co-executive producer. Guest contributor James Kloda reviews the film below. All images included are courtesy of NorteSur Producciones.
“Silence is golden/But my eyes still see.”
This refrain from The Four Seasons’ song is both haunted and haunting, its stated serenity mere illusion. Similarly, Eliezer Arias’ documentary, The Silence Of The Flies, has a lingering disquietude hanging over its subject of multiple suicide, predominantly amongst young adults, in rural Venezuela. Organised by Dr Caroline Bennett, the School was delighted to welcome the film’s executive producer, MA in Visual Anthropology alumnus Gonzalo Chacon, to introduce the screening and participate in a Q & A session, proving to be an engaging, thought-provoking evening.
Arias follows the stories of two ladies, Marcelina and Mercedes, whose daughters tragically took their own lives. One, María José, was a spiky, rebellious character who despised the inherent chauvinism of the society surrounding her, defiantly coming out much to the disgust of her father: the other, Nancy, remains far more enigmatic, any allusions to troubled personality reflected in the figure of her devoted sister, who herself tried to commit suicide when she was eight months pregnant. The dichotomy of silence is drawn thus: present absence and absent presence. And silence is very much the thematic heart of the film, for what typifies this seemingly phenomenological outbreak of self-sacrifice is the cloak of hush wrapped around it.
Similar to Joshua Oppenheimer’s recent documentary The Look Of Silence, which followed an Indonesian optometrist confronting the perpetrators of his country’s 1965 genocidal purge, the precise challenge of Arias’ film is to dramatise that dichotomy of silence. Stories are heard in voiceover against images of their narrators, silent in frame but always staring into the lens, searching it, and us, for answers or a means to express their private tragedies. The effect of this disconnect is persuasive, a voice only able to be candid when disembodied from its speaker.
The images themselves are desolate, vast pockets of empty space pushing compositional detail to the fringe leaving a void centre-frame: figures are almost exclusively shot in isolation and, when a group is seen together, it is always from a distance. Perhaps the most striking articulation of the palpable absence at the heart of these communities is of a frozen photograph depicting María José filling the screen as the sound of her brother scrubbing down walls prior to decorating scratches metronomically on the soundtrack: a face etched domineeringly in close-up to the tune of attempted erasure.
The Silence Of The Flies is not always this gracefully lyrical. Indeed, some of its more stylised imagery seems too studied: dew drops fall from drooping leaves as Polaroids of victims float down streams. And whilst the lack of objective narration allows us to relate directly to troubled biography, it sometimes becomes difficult to understand whose story we are now following.
Yet there is so much to tell, clamouring to get out to reach some form of resolution, that confusion is perhaps inevitable. With questions still so present and answers wholly absent, The Silence Of The Flies ends with a montage of faces now with eyes closed, meditating, perhaps beginning to find some kind of peace now that hush has been broken. For a brief moment, silence is golden.
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.
“Film can rescue anthropology and deliver it from its confines.”
By James Kloda
The introduction from film-maker Hugh Brody to this year’s screening of ethnographic projects made by the undergraduate and Master’s visual anthropology students suggests a liberation of authorial voice to articulate its subject through a cinematographic medium: indeed, many of the shorts that were screened were free from an imposed agenda, telling moments revealed through shrewd observation and unforced technique. Charlotte Austwick’s Welcome To The Country looked at the rural community that she grew up in, and the reaction of locals to the increasing influx of urbanites relocating there and the prejudices they hold against parochialism. There was a pleasingly sardonic wit expressed by the film-maker (an interviewee bemoans city slickers invading the countryside that cuts to an axe chopping a log), and her father proved an eccentrically entertaining character, sighing when he recognises the look of piqued curiosity exhibited by outsiders toward them (“Oh, they’re going to want to talk about the locals again…”) and recounting tales of their prurient fascination at seeing such ‘marvels’ as peas growing in the wild. But, despite justified grumblings from the villagers, there was admitted compromise in the fact that those accustomed to city ways are more prepared to pressurise local councils regarding maintenance of facilities. Austwick’s film could have perhaps benefited from the point of view of an interloper, to see what visual and behavioural contrasts exist between the two types of inhabitant, but, overall, it was a work of warm confidence.
Communities featured prominently in the next array of films, from the University’s diverse religious fraternities to a busy indoor market in Leicester, via a Cosplay conference in London. Kate Al-Khalili’s The Community Within Religion observed ritual, be it a baptism or Muslim prayer session, with intimacy, her camera genuflecting with prayer-goers and close-framing the various groups, highlighting the bond between them. Yet there was also the occasional flash of the pragmatic limitations of open-armed welcome: the RC chaplain at the University of Kent opines that he couldn’t physically cope if too many students came to the institution for Catholic foundation. Anastasia To’s Muchly Needed captured the multicultural diversity that still thrives in a fish market with a vibrancy of colour and contrast, reflected in the choice of interview subjects and close-ups of the wide variety of fish for sale. The choice of location was inspired, as many customers related to the piscine wares as a connection to home, a demand for domestic staple fuelling supply of increasingly exotic fish, which led many to recount family anecdotes of fish preparation and styles of cooking to the camera. Cosplay, filmed by Harrison Holt, asked a number of people why they participate in costuming: a means to overcome shyness; an antidote to bullying; providing outreach for disadvantaged community groups. What was striking was the static poise that cosplayers exhibited when Holt filmed them, as if waxworks in a gaudy gallery. And there was something sneakily subversive about including footage of them drinking Coca Cola or eating a Subway: for all the flamboyant esotericism on display, the cosplayers still chow down on junk food, a symbol of homogeneity if ever there was one.
The next collection of films were individual portraits that often revealed more about the film-maker than their subject. Hannah Evans’ About Dad fulfilled a desire that most of us have: to put our parents in the spotlight at the mercy of our interrogation. But her father Jeremy proves an elusive figure, disarming Hannah with a banality of recollection when she asks him what his favourite memories are of her or matter-of-factly recounting details of his brother’s death, a story that an audibly upset, off-camera Hannah hears for the first time. If the presence of a camera can open up its subject, the revelations that this affords are not always easy to swallow. With Time To Use also focused on a father, one who has taken an early retirement yet is becoming increasingly restless. Alex Astin’s frustrated insistence that his father sit back, relax and enjoy his well-deserved fallow period instead of obsessively busying himself subtly articulated an irreconcilable generational divide, made poignant by inserts of the tide ebbing and flowing on the beach that Astin Senior’s house overlooks, potent metaphors for what time there is to use. Lucinda Newman’s Portrait Of A President followed the student president of Canterbury Homeless Outreach as she discussed the voluntary work that the group do. Impact softened by prolonged imagery of the subject smoking and playing guitar in the sunshine, presumably to suggest what a free spirit she is, and no footage of or interviews with the people she helps, the film nevertheless provided a saddening exposé of NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) council attitude, that homeless people should be moved on to another place for someone else to deal with. This revelation was all the more powerful for its organic emergence in Newman’s conversational approach.
The peripatetic subject of Anna Bettini’s Reflessioni On The Go ambled around Canterbury’s Westgate Gardens and High Street, as his thoughts on the differences between his native Sardinia and Britain were narrated through voiceover. Whilst delineating the British stereotype that he has experienced, his comments reinforced popular notions of the Italian temperament, whether announcing that “British people give credit to our level of learning and knowledge” with blithe hauteur or detailing how quick his fellow countrymen are to make a scene in the workplace as opposed to the polite placidity of their UK counterparts. If the imagery often seemed superfluous to the pre-recorded interview (frustratingly we do not hear his comments when in front of an Italian war memorial in the city), Bettini revealed her strategy in the closing moments: since staying in Canterbury, and despite the cultural differences good or bad, he feels a closeness to his current location, as a ‘second home’ to the one of his birth, the constant roving reflective of this transition.
With so many quiet epiphanies, the final three shorts displayed a direct confidence with both style and examination. Rachel Downes’ Cirque de Curiosité had little to say about its titular cabaret company, their filmed acts intercut with rather conventional interviews. However, the acts themselves were a marvel of montage and colour, the febrile intensity of performance captured through swathes of neon, pulsating editing and multi-angled curiosity. And, for the interviews themselves, Downes made dramatic choice of camera position, filming jugglers from a high gantry or, bravely, right underneath them, the camera lens in danger of destruction should a ball stray from its controlled rhythm. Telling Secrets began with its maker and subject, Simon Holt, attempting to light candles on a birthday cake that become continually extinguished: in a droll cut, it is revealed that this is because the table is positioned next to an electric fan. Holt chose to make a film about his prior struggles with depression and is candid on camera about his feelings. But it is the facility with visual metaphor that distinguished this piece, that opening image profoundly resonant through its deadpan simplicity. A therapeutic experience, for both Holt and the audience.
Wrapping things up was Joe Spence’s Our Patch, a documentary about a farm in Herefordshire that doubles as an animal rescue shelter and a centre for people with special needs. Spence’s warmth and empathy with his subjects was touching, his camera drifting out of focus briefly as the owner of the farm becomes moved to tears, a moment of discretion to his subject but one that also elicits a similar response in the audience, the image welling up through a subtle lens shift. It is moments like this that film does not only rescue anthropology, but delivers us all from the confines surrounding us, be they social, emotional or familial.
Resolation Prize Winners
HUGH BRODY VISUAL ANTHROPOLOGY PRIZE: Our Patch– Joe Spence
RUNNER-UP: Welcome To The Country– Charlotte Austwick
DAVID PICK DOCUMENTARY PRIZE: Telling Secrets– Simon Holt
RUNNER-UP: Muchly Needed– Anastasia To
PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT PRIZE : Telling Secrets– Simon Holt
RUNNER-UP: With Time To Use– Alex Astin
AUDIENCE AWARD: Our Patch– Joe Spence/Telling Secrets- Simon Holt
RUNNER-UP: Muchly Needed– Anastasia To
CSAC SPECIAL DISTINCTION PRIZE IN TECHNICAL & CINEMATOGRAPHIC CREATIVITY & DIGITAL STORYTELLING: Cirque de Curiosité– Rachel Downes
[All the screened films can be accessed through clicking on the links above]
@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 something like this. They spoke of their hopes for futures in the film industry – they want to send the film to the BBC and E4, and some hope to start careers in singing and/or film. In the least they want to pass the buck to other young homeless people now living in Porchlight’s hostels, for them to continue with ‘Episode Two’ of Homeless Youth!
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.
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!
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.