Students are introduced to the basic working methods and theories of Visual Anthropology. They are familiarized with prevalent approaches and theories and their application. As they are expected to have rather diverse backgrounds, this introduction also aims at achieving a common basis from which to proceed to the specific modules.
An Introduction to Visual Anthropology as a Discipline and a Methodology
How and why did visual anthropology become a discipline and what are the implications, consequences and difficulties raised by this academic recognition?
We will examine films done around the same period of times 1914-1918 to capture the different utilisations interpretations and their eventual integration in the public space (exhibition, retrospective…) In the Sixties the main approaches were the observational cinema and the direct cinema: we will explain and contextualize these methodologies within their personal, academic and intellectual background. Obviously the world’s political situation was a source of inspiration and we will screen excerpts from this period in order to understand the ways filmmakers could offer their personal stance. Pursuing the discipline evolution through a timeline perspective, we will consider concepts like: shared anthropology, cinema vérité, direct cinema, ciné-transe and the ways these key concepts can be interpreted and used nowadays as our field of reflection and practice are expanding on digital open spaces where different categories of media can freely intertwine thus stimulating a transversal approach?
Spread over thirteen units, this course will take us from the first grainy ethnographic film shot in the Arctic all the way to southern Ethiopia, with stopovers in Bali, Russia, Italy, Ghana, the United States, Canada, Germany and England. On this journey, we will explore classic works, figures and issues in the history and practice of ethnographic film. In so doing, we will encounter the visual anthropologists Margaret Mead, Timothy Asch, Jean Rouch, Robert Gardner, Judith and David MacDougall, and many others. The goal is to experience and reflect on a diversity of ways of seeing, and thereby inspire new ways of filming.
Each unit will be based on viewing and discussing films. We will aim to grasp an understanding of each film and its relationship to anthropology, and the way these films deal with issues and themes on-camera, off-camera, behind-camera and on the screen. We will consider the use of the camera as a research tool, the Kino-Eye, early British Realism and Italian Neorealism, aesthetics in film, ciné-trance, ciné-vérité, observational film, issues of cultural and gender representation, auto-ethnography, and ethical questions raised by the practice of ethnographic film. We will also discuss current ethnographic practice as well as its relationship to documentary.
This introductory course will go through the general categories of 'modes of representation' of reality in documentary and anthropology. In class, we will watch and discuss both classical and unusual examples of Bill Nichols' five modes category (Expository, Observational, Interactive, Reflexive, Performative). Films debated will include works by Frederick Wiseman, Johan Vanderkeuken, Trinh Minh-Ha and Renzo Martens. This theory will be but in practice through assignments related to different ‘modes of representation’.