Academic journal article Ethnologies

Complicity through Montage: A Call for an Intercultural Approach to Ethnographic Filmmaking

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Complicity through Montage: A Call for an Intercultural Approach to Ethnographic Filmmaking

Article excerpt

* La recente production d'ethnographies participatives et de textes experimentaux montre la preoccupation des anthropologues a vouloir reduire l'ecart qui existe entre le Soi et l'Autre. Cet article propose une exploration critique d'un tel objectif en examinant jusqu'a quel point le Soi et l'Autre peuvent etre articule dans un texte audio-visuel unique. Dans cet article, je propose que l'adoption conscientisee de techniques de montage interculturelles en production filmique a le potentiel de creer des standards visuels alternatifs qui defient les modes de representations occidentales en vogue, en plus de re-imaginer, plutot que d'eliminer, la distance qui existe entre le Soi et l'Autre.

* The recent production of participatory ethnographies and experimental texts shows the concern of many anthropologists to address the gap that exists between Self and Other. This article lays the foundation for a critical exploration of such attempts by questioning the extent to which Self and the Other can be articulated within a unique audio-visual text. In this article, I propose that the adoption of interculturally conscious forms of montage techniques in filmmaking has the potential to create new meanings that challenge Western modes of representation and re-imagine the gap between Self and Other.

Introduction

During the first year of my PhD studies at the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester, I was asked to explain how I planned to integrate the visual medium with my doctoral research (1). Various practical and theoretical explorations made me realize that the heart of my visual approach is in issues of representation and intersubjectivity. Since then, my visual approach has taken up the following questions: How can I represent the Other in a visual text? Can we reject the ideology of "observer-observed" as encouraged by a postmodernist approach (Clifford 1986)? Is it possible to symmetrically integrate the Other's "visual system" (2) into a text of which I am the main author? How can we merge different stylistic conventions into a unique visual product? All of these questions are related to the ostensibly unavoidable distance between Self and Other, which is at the core of the ethnographic film enterprise (Nichols 1994: 67; Russell 1999).

The idea of a "shared anthropology" and "participatory ethnography" was, to a certain extent, explored in the films and writings of Jean Rouch, and many other attempts since have been made to diminish, integrate, dissipate, deconstruct, and/or eliminate the distance and the asymmetrical relation existing between Us and Them. The emergence of polyphonic, dialogical, collaborative, participatory, reflexive, autobiographical, and indigenous types of experimental ethnographic texts, among others, shows a clear response to such concerns as they address the legacy of colonialism.

This article lays the foundation for a critical exploration of such attempts by questioning the extent to which Self and the Other can be articulated within a unique visual text. (3) In maintaining that such a distinction always involves relations of power, I emphasize the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of creating visual products of shared authority. Rather than focusing solely on the potential of diminishing the distance between Self and Other, experimental projects should consider the possibility of destabilizing Western conventions that emphasize notions of continuity and unity (Pinney 1992: 101). I propose that the adoption of interculturally conscious forms of montage techniques in filmmaking has the potential to create new meanings that challenge Western modes of representation and re-imagine the gap between Self and Other.

Montage, I argue, can generate alternative and purposeful means of understanding theoretical issues. The exploration of how topics are inscribed within the structure of a film itself (rather than being limited to a sole "content" position) is central to my visual approach. …

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