The planning of fieldwork in anthropology is always shaped by a combination of expectation, uncertainty, and adventure. Before I began my own fieldwork in Barcelona in 2013, I imagined it as a kind of organic process in which my relationship with the participants would flow through the application of particular methods. This idea made me think initially that the filming of a collaborative documentary would be the perfect means through which to explore the relationship between graffiti and the use of public space in Barcelona. Then this idea was transformed throughout my research into a changeable process shaped by my everyday life in the city. In this setting, I applied visual methods within different contexts such as collaborations with artists and collectives, walking routes, exhibitions, and alternative TV channels. This allowed me to get involved in multiple ways of making graffiti and to produce videos about them. I edited together this visual material together using the Korsakow software, and it was presented as the visual practice project for my PhD thesis in Social Anthropology with Visual Media at the University of Manchester. The result is an interactive film called “Walking in Barcelona,” which allows the viewer an exploration of the mutable and diverse nature of the city looking at the relations between surfaces, places, and people. Here I want to reflect on these experiences and on the application of audiovisual methods within them.
This post is also part of a series on migration and the refugee crisis moderated and edited by Prem Kumar Rajaram (Central European University).
I visited Lampedusa from 24 September to 5 October 2015 to commence fieldwork research for my new project, Human Dignity and Biophysical Violence: Migrant Deaths across the Mediterranean Sea. This photo essay documents some of the key encounters that I experienced during my visit.
I want to stress here that I originally had no intention of collecting images for a photo essay as part of this trip. I spontaneously took the photos on my mobile phone, and there is much room for improvement in terms of technical and compositional quality. Moreover, my compilation of these images into an essay is far from how I might have chosen if I had planned to produce a photo essay from the start. Despite its various limitations, I nevertheless hope that the essay is of value.
My soundscape composition Sublime-sound-of-the-one-hand [Ryōan-ji] sounds out the acoustic ecology of the “quintessential … karesansui dry landscape garden” (UNESCO 1993: 41) Or, put another way, to limit “idiosyncratic and ambiguous” (BSI 2014: v) concepts spilling across interrelated disciplines, by implementing the new British International Standard’s definition of “soundscape,” the question is: how is “the acoustic environment perceived or experienced and/or understood by a person or people,” in the “context” of the karesansui dry landscape garden (BSI 2014:1)?
Caterina Pasqualino is an anthropologist whose research within the realm of Gypsy flamenco for the past twenty years has culminated in her seminal book Flamenco Gitan. Her interest in performance and ritual and their relationships with experimental film—explored in the book she co-edited with Arnd Schneider, Experimental Film and Anthropology—has led her to begin exploring her practice through the language of experimental film.
Following a meeting with Chiara Ambrosio—a filmmaker, visual artist, and flamenco dancer—the two have decided to develop a film together to explore the role of the “outsider” and of suffering within art and, more specifically, within the space of flamenco.
My engagement with the ideas and practices of fieldwork stems from my interest in anthropology and the classification of human “types” through the “science” of anthropometry in the mid-nineteenth century, which began when I was a photography undergraduate student. “Field Work” (2010) was my attempt to address visual ethnographic practice from the position of a contemporary photographic practitioner. As a photographer I have always been concerned with issues around race, identity, and representation, and the award of the AOA1 commission provided the opportunity to question specific perceptions of boundaries and region in the United Kingdom, and how these relate to identification with a particular community. The commissioners wanted “an image-maker who can have agency as a British citizen, meditate and reflect on being a ‘stranger,’ but also move to a place that can be seen as his home domain and look out towards ‘his’ England.”
“Between the experience of living a normal life at this moment on the planet and the public narratives being offered to give a sense of that life, the empty space, the gap, is enormous.” —John Berger
Estate: a reverie
Estate: one’s home and money
Estate: a mansion or a plantation
Estate: order or class of a political community
Estate: landed property, especially in the countryside
Estate: property development, especially of new houses
Estate: property or possessions, especially of the deceased
Estate: state, period or position in life, especially with regard to wealth or social standing
To appreciate the role of aesthetics in politics, we might look to the recent resurgence of popular anti-corruption movements in India. In 2011 and 2012, mass protests by supporters of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement focused around spectacular fasts by the social activist Anna Hazare. Hazare’s projection of moral authority draws upon a well-established Indian idiom of non-party “saintly politics” (Morris-Jones 1963). The ascetic aesthetic of this approach, in Hazare’s case, is projected through the adoption of simple, hand-woven khadi cotton clothes and practices of abstinence (Pinney 2014; Webb 2014). More recently, a new political formation, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), or the Common Man Party, headed by Hazare’s erstwhile IAC colleague Arvind Kejriwal has been promoting an ethical and anti-corruption alternative in electoral politics.
In the opening sequences of Desert People (1967, 49 minutes, Australian National Film Board), we read, “This is a film on two families of the western Australian desert.” But in fact the film’s real subject is the wonderful Gibson Desert—whose textural surface is magically rendered by black and white 35mm film—and the relationship with “its” people as they constantly move across it, stopping only for short moments of rest. This relationship is marked by material scarcity and hard labor. We see boys and men restlessly digging the hard surface of the desert with spears and wooden tools. We see their bodies slowly disappearing inside it, to reappear with handfuls of water, small lizards, and rats. We see women making food out of wild grass. We see families gathering to eat, forced into a momentary standstill by the heat of the sun at midday.
The Art and Visual Anthropology (AVA) section of the FocaalBlog is a conceptual and discursive space in which artists, anthropologists, and art scholars are invited to reflect on how films and images can be used for social analysis and political struggle, as well as on broader debates on economic and social change.
The period from 1968 to 1981 witnessed the development of a medium that carried on the tradition of direct cinema and cinema verité but with radically different form and content—that of community video making. The year 1968 marks the earliest known use of portable video equipment in the United Kingdom for community aims in a period of legendary cultural activism. But 1981 saw the development of the Workshop Agreement1, Channel 4, and the new conservative government in the United Kingdom, rendering much of the work taken up by community video groups impossible to continue.