Visual Anthropology and Ethnographic Filmmaking

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Code: 
SOCL 5019
Course Description: 

This course explores the ways in which the visual conveys and broadens ethnographic investigation. In a discipline dominated by words we came to think exclusively in terms of culture as text and ethnography as ‘writing culture’. Challenging anthropology's iconophobia the course proposes an alternative perspective focused on the role of vision and the moving image in anthropological research. It takes visuality as a mode of knowing and representing, looking at different ways of seeing and the cultural interpretations of such representations. It addresses critical issues related to knowledge production, reflexivity, ethics and aesthetics in ethnographic filmmaking and enables participants to explore these issues in their own visual work. The course aims to balance practice and theory by combining readings and films with practical exercises and production of visual works. The lectures cover the parallel beginnings of film and anthropology, portrayals of 'exotic people' and the role of visual documentation in anthropological fieldwork. It looks at observation as a mode of ethnographic inquiry, visual conventions in fiction and documentary, narrative and editing styles, issues of authorship and subjectivity in ethnographic film. Finally, it explores the potential and perils of an anthropological engagement with ‘old’ and new media through a survey of recent experiments. The practical part builds on visual and theoretical input to help students define their visual approach and develop a project of their own. These sessions include viewing and analysis of visual examples, editing theory, practical exercises and critique of group projects at each stage of completion.  Outside of class, students will complete short, photo and video-based exercises exploring and developing individual skills, and one larger, final project.

The class will not provide basic technical instructions in filmmaking so students aiming to make a film should have some familiarity with film equipment and production. Pre-attendance of one of the documentary filmmaking courses offered by the VTP is strongly  recommended.