Visual Anthropology and Ethnographic Filmmaking

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 film screenings with practical instruction in filmmaking techniques and students’ own visual production. In the lecture sessions, it covers the parallel beginnings of film and anthropology, portrayals of 'exotic people' and the role of visual documentation in early anthropology. 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. In the last part it explores the potential and perils of an anthropological engagement with ‘old’ and new media through selected examples of such experiments. The workshop sessions build on visual and theoretical input to help students define their visual approach and develop a project of their own. These sessions cover all phases of the filmmaking process, beginning with idea development and pre-production, through production practices including cinematography, sound recording, and interviewing, and finally postproduction processes including sound and picture editing. Class sessions include lecture on relevant concepts,
viewing and analysis of visual examples, technical instruction on equipment, hands-on exercises, and critique of class projects and films at each stage of completion. Outside of class, students will complete 2 short, video-based exercises exploring and developing individual production skills, and one larger, final project.

Learning outcomes
Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:
a) demonstrate advanced knowledge of visual theory and practice
b) be acquainted with the history of ethnographic film and its impact on the discipline
c) improve their research skills by learning to use visual means in social research
d) Develop a visual concept into a formal proposal.
e) Work with basic technical proficiency in a range of areas of video production: operate a video
camera and tripod, an audio recorder and microphone, and the Adobe Premiere editing system,
controlling all technical functions, to produce a short, ethnographic work.
f) Apply aesthetic concepts of cinematography, editing, and sound design to support a deliberate
concept and vision in a short, ethnographic work.
g) Refine a short, ethnographic work through a series of progressively more refined versions, to a
finished work.
h) Articulate basic issues in documentary ethics.