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Basic Module 1: Visual Anthropology

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.

1A) Modes of Representation (Kristian Petersen)

In-house class

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’.

© Thomas John 2012, Mexico

1B) Classics and Varieties of Ethnographic Film (Dr. Nadine Wanono, Tami Liberman)


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.

1C) Anthropology and Photography (Dr. Samuli Schielke)

In-house course

Photography has an ambiguous place in cultural and social anthropology. Originally celebrated for being an objective means to document and study peoples and races, early anthropological photography became embedded into colonialist and racist exploitation, but it also provided inspiration for new projects in documentary photography that searched to look at the humanity of its subjects. Most crucially perhaps, with the rapid spread of photography around the world, the photograph soon ceased to be a technology of the Western colonial power as people around the world sought to record their status and aspiration in studio photographs. And with the emergence of snapshot photography, introduced in early 20th century and most dramatically magnified by digital imaging and mobile phones in the past decade, photography has developed into an everyday practice of remembrance, self-making, creativity, communication, and social commentary around the world. In current anthropology, the belief in the objectivity of photographs has long since waned, replaced by a reflective understanding of many meanings, uses and powers of the photographic image. This has made it only more fruitful for anthropological research, partly through the use of photography as a technique of fieldwork and publication, and partly as photography as a social practice has become a part of visual anthropology’s subject matter.

In this in-house class we focus on this ambiguity of photography as a method and a subject of anthropology by the means of a combination of readings in ethnographic research, works of art and documentary photographers, and practical experiments. The aim of this course is to learn to reflect about the making and the uses of the photographic image in its different forms. In the in-house class we will approach the subject experimentally, discussing and testing different ways of photographing, being photographed and using images.

Prior to the in-house class you will receive three key texts, two of which you have to read in advance. Please bring with you to the in-house class a photograph which you find to be expressing, illustrating, commenting, confirming, developing, questioning or contradicting the ideas conveyed in the two texts (or one of them). The only condition is that you were involved in the making of the photograph, be it as the photographer, the photographed, or in some other way. If you have a digital version of the image, please e-mail it to me not later than two days before the class. We will use polaroid and analogue cameras in the experimental part of the course. If you have one, bring it along. There will also be cameras available, and film will be provided.