Photo elicitation

The method of photo elicitation brings about the interesting question of whether visual communication is inherently better. I feel like this is a very subjective question as it truly depends on the person’s learning style, some do better with visual than others. It links into the degree of comfort for communication. Yet, this method really brings up the importance of material culture, something that is very unique to us humans.

With regards to the Burning and the interviews, it was interesting to note that the context of the ethnographic work was worth knowing. We are fortunate enough to be literate but for most of the African migrants, they are illiterate and therefore rely heavily on visual mediums and the method of photo elicitation would definitely be preferred. Also, with regards to photos that Fino sent to his family we see the trail of misrepresentation of reality in terms of representation one’s best self to others. There is a distinct link or parallel to our use of Instagram in which we make reality look better than it actually is!

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In Douglas Harper’s article, he defines photo elicitation was that it is simply the idea of inserting a photograph into a research interview. The best part of photo elicitation seems to be its ability “to prod latent memory and to stimulate and release emotional statements about the informant’s life”. Photo elicitation can also overcome the difficulties that come along with in-depth interviewing because its based on an image that is at least in part understood by both parties.

My favorite part of his article was the section in which he discusses the two ways in which photo elicitation can lead the subject and researcher towards a mutual understanding. Photographs when breaking the frame and taken from a different angle or perspective can challenge the person and lead to deeper commentary. Thus, jolting the subject into what he calls a new awareness of their social existence. The other method he discusses was the use of images as a bridge between worlds especially culturally distinct ones. As such, one photograph can elicit different ideas from different people and when a photo is made up that shared view, the differences in perspective can be compared and analyzed.

 

Jared Callahan’s Work

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Once Jared told us that Janey was actually his grandmother that just completely changed everything. The fact that he knew her just shed light on so many of my questions such as how he was able to incorporate such raw footage from her wedding and past pictures. The use of her own proper archived videos and pictures, made it way more real and you could really connect with her. I also really liked the fact that he focused on the history and nature of the town Rio Vista along with the community and their struggle, as it really completes the picture. I also could really relate with the point he was trying to relate through Janey makes a play about Ageism in the US and it really gets you to think about your own life and what your doing with it. This especially hit hard at the end when the 16 year-old girl dies yet the 95 year old still lives.

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It was clear from all three clips that the relationship with the subjects is strongly based on trust. This is especially relevant for the short clip American moderate as he could have thrashed the family but instead portrayed them as balanced and not homophobic or racist. Also, the way it was filmed also made us as the viewer really follow her journey of struggle and indecision.

His “compassionate” style of filming really makes the films more about the people and their stories as opposed to getting a real point across although the point is also conveyed in the end. He thus addresses big issues by letting the audience fall in love with the characters. His job as a storyteller is to make the audience fall in love with the characters and I feel like her really did a great job capturing that, although to a certain extent it seemed like he just really focused on the positive and completely omitted the negative. This just made the documentaries a little to idealistic if I may and a bit too fake as there is more to these people’s stories than just happiness, we all struggle and seeing the struggle can allow the viewer to connect at an even deeper level.

The Burning Short Preview – Thoughts

The person that I feel like I really connected with was Yasmine, the single widowed mother with her two little kids. She was just really likeable and the entire aspect of her life really felt visceral and on top of all that has happened to her she still wants to take care of her kids. Her little boy unfortunately needs surgery but she cannot afford it and that also just really hits home as an audience as you get so sucked into their lives and you truly want to know what will happen. With regards to her I thought the song that she sang to her son was particularly important as it basically is a song about a butterfly trying to escape people ho are trying to trap it, another really cool parallel to the migrant’s stories as they try to reach freedom and a better life.

One of my favorite instances in the short preview would definitely have to be the startling scene with the knocking on the door at Yasmine’s apartment with the blackout where her Moroccan landlord makes sure she has no “white” visitors, as they are not allowed in that area. I was so immersed in the clip that the actual knocking and blackout really struck me with regards to my viewer experience. Another favorite scene that was really moving and touching was the scene with the donkey in the middle of now where with its tongue out trying to breath and a tear dripping down its face. With that shot I really drew a parallel between that poor donkey and the stories the immigrants recounted about the horrors of trying to cross the Sahara to get to Morocco.

Another moment in the preview that struck me was the sentence uttered by the African woman working at the UNHCR who wants to help the kids. She said something along the lines of the ocean and the forest are eating the Africans and I just thought that was so compelling and true!

“The Mapping Journey Project” by Bouchra Khalili

tumblr_no4w98fnde1utnggjo1_400Artist Bouchra Khalili was born in Casablanca and studied Film at Sorbonne Nouvelle and Visual Arts at the Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Arts de Paris-Cergy but now lives and works in Berlin. She works with various mediums such as film, video, photography and print, exploring language and subjectivity but most importantly geographical explorations.

Her artwork “Mapping Journeys” Video Art Installation is what could be described as a mixed-media installation that combines eight videos and a printed map. Yet, as simple as that might sound, the project has much deeper meaning behind it and falls under social practice art. Interestingly enought, the project also challenges the audience to go against the normativity of cartography and really look into the hidden geographies.

1415620383-bouchra_khalili_the_mapping_journey_project_exhibition_view_1While allowing individuals to tell the stories of their crossings, in their own voice, Khalili uses art as a means for social activism for increasing awareness of the migrant crisis. She offers the audience a different perspective on the notions of space, borders, mobility and the greater political ideologies that play part in this constant power struggle.These people’s journeys show how lives today cannot be defined but cartographic contours also known as boarders. By using the experiences of the storytellers as a starting point and not seeing them as exceptions, Khalili challenges the audience to look at maps differently and reflect on the reality of migration and global movement.

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My Take on the History of Visual Anthropology Films

The various excerpts watched in class today really helped me get a better understanding of the actual transition and evolution underwent in the process of film and its relation to anthropology, more specifically the changes that underwent the creation of visual anthropology. One really important thing that I thought was kind of an overarching theme was this idea of converting from written ethnography to visual as a means to better expose the masses to anthropology through the use of visual media. There was also the use of maps and long introductory text within the films at the very beginning that served as an indicator as to the visual medium being an anthropological film.

nanook-of-the-north-poster The first film or excerpt that we watched by Robert Flaherty entitled “Nook of the North” was actually really compelling. I enjoyed watching it and part of the reason why would definitely be the fact that it was like a picture book, with text then the video. The boat scene in particular was very amusing and the fact that there was no talking or sound but just the music kind of reminded me of a Charley Chaplin movie and again was amusing and compelling to watch. Yet one has to keep in mind that he did in fact have staged events and scripted scenes but they were that of the Eskimo’s everyday lives.

Another film that struck out to me was the one by Margret Mead called “Bathing Babies in 3 cultures”, which I thought was a great concept to compare 3 different cultures with regards to one single act. I really enjoyed the comparative approach between cultures and the way in whichmargaretmead she used her voice to give analysis and observation especially with regards to the treatment of babies and the connection to their mothers. It clearly emphasizes the strong cultural differences. Yet, I feel like there seemed to be a little bias in the way in which she referred to other cultures as opposed to the American, especially in the African case.

 

The other piece that really stood out to me was the “Reassemblage” by Trinh T Minh Ha in which she uses sound and cuts in an exaggerated manner which made the entire piece feel more like a sort of collage or art piece as opposed to a documentary. It gave off a minhhamore artistic vibe like “poetry on screen” with the disoriented scenes that she intentionally wanted to do in order to criticize documentaries. It really guided the focus on her as the creator as opposed to the entire film, which was greatly due to the fact that the audience was not presented to a linear narrative but rather chunks with her voice over.

My Reaction to “Imba means to Sing”

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From an artistic perspective, the movie in terms of visuals was amazing. The quality was just great and the colors as well but not only that but the sound definition was off the charts and this added to the entire experience of watching the documentary. Another important thing that I realized in terms of film choices was the stark contrast between housing and living conditions in the US and in Uganda which we see much of in the very beginning of the movie. You have the typical American houses side by side with the white picket fences and perfectly clean front yards just juxtaposed by the slums of Uganda and that really stood out to me. The first thing that I thought of was this idea of the American dream and the ideal perfect American house. This notion is then strongly emphasized and believed as the parents of those children constantly refer to going abroad to going to America and see America as the land of opportunity and freedom.

This then got me to thinking how the entire trip that focuses on going to America and preforming in front of predominantly white Americans to get sponsors had some underlying tones of exposing the children to the beauty of the western world and just how great it is. It got me to thinking about this possible notion of “Americanization” and how I also have somewhat fallen into that trap growing up and always wanting to come to America and constantly exposed to American culture and such.

Another thing with regards to those children that I thought about while watching the movie was the culture shock that they must have experienced, especially when coming home. You go from living in great conditions to going back to your country where everything is different, yet granted it is home and it will always be home, regardless of all the negatives. That I could strongly related to!

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The documentary brought about many interesting points among which I thought the most important had to do with the ideas of cultural appropriation with regards to “African-ness”. This somewhat angered me while watching the movie as it really portrays this idea of how African children need your help and especially need the West’s help in order to educate themselves. It promotes the notion of Africans being so dependent on others. Moreover, it depicts only one aspect of Africa, that being the Ugandan culture, which to many of the audiences might come to include all of Africa. It is problematic but I get the point of the African’s children choir and they are truly trying to make a difference and help those children, with good intentions. Also what better way to cross over barriers than through music, it is indeed a common language to as all!

Insider Vs. Outsider

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The article on power and positionality with regards to ethnographic field research was very interesting. I especially really liked the article’s layout and the use of four different case studies to help show how the initial assumptions about access, power relationships and commonality experience can be challenged.

The most obvious advantages of being an insider include better access especially with regards to the phase of research and the establishment f rapport but also the immediate trust and assumed “pre-knoweldge” in terms of language, cues, facial expressions. Yet sometimes as an insider it’s hard to step out of your established role within the society whether it be in terms of your job or gender.  As for the disadvantages, these include the limited topics of research as you are assumed to have prior knowledge about the culture but more importantly, taboo topics are a lot easier to bring up when you’re a naïve outsider.

It is interesting to see that the factors that distinguish an insider from an outsider include things like race, gender, level of education, social class, ethnicity and much more. Yet, when it comes to which factor is more important, I feel like its very context dependent especially on the society or community being studied. In my opinion this strongly links in to what the society or community values most. Moreover, I feel like in most cases, it is automatically assumed that the more the researcher is like the participants in terms of culture, gender, race, socio-economic class… the more access granted, meanings shared and credibility to the findings. This is clearly not always the case and being an insider is not always without problems due to interlocking aspects such as culture, gender and power.

One thing that really struck me in the article was the following quote: “During fieldwork the researcher’s power is negotiated not given”. It doesn’t necessarily mean that because you are the researcher, you are entitled to access all knowledge and are dominant over the participants.

In the end, it seems like both the insider’s perspective and outsider’s perspective are considered as valid and should be. Not only will the researcher experience moments of being both insider and outsider, but that these positions are depend heavily on the cultural values and norms of both researcher and participants.

Reaction to Susan Sontag – Looking at War

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Going back to Susan Sontag’s article about “Looking at War”, various things struck out to me. Among the first was this question of gender and the notion of war being a man’s game as men like war due to glory, necessity or even satisfaction. Another really interesting idea was the following question that was raised in the article: War is an abomination, a barbarity, and must be stopped yet can it really be abolished? I mean, it’s a serious question as since the very beginning of mankind, we have constantly been fighting each other whether it be for the purpose of resources or even pure conquest and glory as previously mentioned so can we as a race end war?

I feel like this really relates to the concept of the human appetite for pictures showing bodies in pain, which Sontag states is almost as keen as desire for nudity. It also connects to this idea of provocation and the ability of one person to see distinguishes them from the rest of the spectators who are ultimately viewed as cowards. We are essentially a society of spectacle.

photoThe power of images was another important theme in the article as was the notion of photography as shock therapy. This being said, photographs shrive sympathy and repeated exposure to certain types of photos can decrease the person’s ability to relate to the photo or empathize. Thus, photographs have the ability to illicit emotions and are universal in the sense that photography has only one language. Another interesting idea was the notion that war is generic and that often times the images we see are images of anonymous generic victims. This then relates to the importance of captions as Sontag wrote, “Alter the caption: alter the use of these deaths”.

The last thing that really resonated with me was the how cameras and photos ultimately record what is real and are what Sontag refers to as “memory freeze frames”. This really hits home as I tend to look at old family photos and am very thankful for them, as without them I would not be able to remember what my dad looked like..

“The Crossing” – My Reaction

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It really shocked me just how hard it is for the sub-Saharan Africans to fit into the Moroccan society. As Beni describes, “We have to live in the forest like animals because the Moroccans don’t want us living beside them. They don’t want to see us in their towns, and when they do, they throw rocks at us and shout ‘Azzi!’” Azzi is a racial slur sometimes hurled at sub-Saharan Africans.” At the same time, as much as I hate to admit it Moroccans do tend to be racist, hence the use of the racial slur “Azzi” which I’m familiar with. I think this goes back to that entire notion of just how North Africa is usually separated from the rest of the African continent and to a certain extent not considered part of Africa, not only due to cultural differences but also due to skin color.

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Another relatable word was “Hrig,” the Moroccan Arabic term for “illegal immigration,” that translates to “burning.” I am also familiar with the word but more in terms of describing Moroccans that flee the country to go to Europe. I never really knew its true significance and why burning in particular to describe the process but now I know. It makes total sense now to think of it as burning one’s ID in order to avoid being taken back by the EU authorities but also burning one’s past identity for a brighter and better future abroad.

One particular line that struck me was the following, “I can’t go to the police when I’m cheated or attacked. If I present a problem, then I am the problem.” This really made me realize how difficult the situation for these migrants is as they their rights as humans are being violated and they cant even do anything about it, as they would be considered the cause of the issue no matter what. On the other hand, I really admire their determination and hope to not give up as marked by the following quote,  “We will make it to Europe or we will die trying. There is no other way home for us now.” Yet, one should not forget that they don’t really have a choice as in most cases their real home has nothing left to offer, thus nothing to lose and take the risk. It’s all or nothing. “I had no one left at home to protect.” I can’t imagine the struggle to of the integration process for Sub-Saharan Africans into the society as the Moroccan society itself is going through so much turmoil, especially with regards to economic hardship. Not to be bias but Moroccans themselves are also struggling to make a living and a lot of the majority also live in poverty.

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Another thing that I could really relate to especially as a Moroccan was the discussion about opportunities with regards to one’s nationality and how they impact one’s ability to move and travel. It truly is a disadvantage in a sense like the amount of times I wish I had double nationality just for the sake of being able to travel without having to apply for a visa is crazy. Not to mention, when we do get the visa, its limited to such a short time period simply due to the fact that we are Moroccan, African and Muslim. Thus, I strongly agree with the existing “correlation between opportunities for social and economic mobility within one’s own country, and the opportunity for mobility to more economically prosperous countries”.

Asuperthumbt the end of the article, Beni described Morocco as a place that could be called purgatory but then said, “We call it hell. We’re all trapped here waiting in hell.” This really hit home as my home country is literally described as hell, it is so hard for me to imagine as I grew up there an
d know the people. I never thought my home country could be so cruel to others and disregard them I mean we are all African in the end and should help each other as opposed to fight one another. It also important to note just how Morocco is made to be this “disposal” or landfill space for Spain and the EU and is completely taken advantage of and I just hate that!

John Marshall

John Kennedy Marshall is and American anthropologist and acclaimed documentary filmmaker, most known for his work in Namibia. His work focused mainly on the lives of the Ju/’hoansi also known as the !King Bushmen. His first travel experience to the Kalahari Desert was meeting the Ju/’hoansi of the Nyae in 1950 on a trip organized by his father in search of the “Lost World of the Kalahari”. His films anticipated the cinema verite movement of the 1960s, which focuses on depicting reality as his films combine documentary media and ethnographic film. His shooting style evolved to reflect his position within the filmed society, which is that of the participant as opposed to the outside observer.

John MarshallHis filming career essentially took off when he took his 16mm Kodak camera on his second trip to the Kalahari to conduct an ethnographic study of the Ju/’hoansi and record one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer cultures. Thus from 1950-1958, Marshall focused on filming their life and his first edited film entitled The Hunters was released in 1957. The film portrayed the Ju/’hoansi in their everyday life along with their constant struggle with nature. Yet at the time the Ju/’hoansi were clashing with the modern world, struggling to find food. The film however made Marshall determined to produce more objective, and less mediated films about the Ju/’hoansi. Consequently, he created a series of short films designed to educate without “exoticizing” or “imposing western narrative structures on the subject”.

However, during the 1960s and most of the 1970s, Marshall and all other anthropologists were banned from visiting the Ju/’hoansi by the government. As a result Marshall made short films with his previously collected in 1950s and also pursued various film projects in the US. In 1968, he and Tim Asch founded Documentary Educational Resources, an NGO dedicated to facilitating the use of cross-cultural documentaries within classrooms. Marshal also took part in grassroots organizing and development in Nyae Nyae in the 1980s, leading to the creation of what would become the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia. Due to his devotion, in 2003, the Society for Visual Anthropology gave Marshall a lifetime achievement award for his 50-year of work among the hunter-gatherer society. Known as the John Marshall Ju/’hoansi Bushman Film and Video Collection (1950-2000), the entire collection was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register for documentary heritage of world importance in July 2009.

The Hunters (1957) – From the !Kung series

N!ai : The Story of a Kung Woman