I was very interested to see what visual anthropology actually meant. I had big expectations of the course, to see what role photography and film play in anthropology. The first to readings were quite interesting. Mead's passionate argument for the use of modern techniques in preserving dying cultures was very good; my only problem was that it handled film and pictures as mere tools to collect and record data instead as date in their own right.
The second piece by Banks & Morphy moved along the same lines as Mead but they took it a big step further in arguing that photographs and films can actually work as date in themselves in anthropology. Their take on this subject is much closer to my thinking than Mead's; even though her passion for the use of modern techniques in anthropology is absolutely admirable.
Film: Into the Field by Alyssa Grossman
The first film we watched was about orthodox nuns in Romania and it was completely the opposite that I had had in mind about an ethnographic film. It was entertaining, well paced and very interesting. I found Grossman's way of incorporating herself into the film through little animations exciting but also tiring sometimes and hard to decipher. Some of the animations were easily decodable but some others felt a bit forced and by the end of the film a bit tiring.
However, the film gave a good picture about the life of the nuns and brought up several topics about the differences between the outside world and the inside world. The second topic which was very prevelant was the relationship between nuns and the very strict hierachy and lifestyle they followed. A narrative about these issues could be strongly felt all through the whole film even though Grossman's whole take on ethnographic film making felt very informal and therefore quite entertaining.
For me this movie with the intertitles and animations felt a bit like an artsy Tarantino film, without the blood and gores of course. And, even though the anthropologist never really showed up in the film except for the animations, her presence could be felt during the whole movie through the interactions of the nuns with the camera and their reactions to Grossman's presence. The intimacy between the anthropologist and the observed came through very well.