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Accepted Paper:

Martin Parr and the ethnographer: art and anthropology producing “relational aesthetics”  
Ana Carolina Balthazar (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

Through a comparison of ethnographic methods and the methods used by the photographer Martin Parr, this paper considers the aesthetic forms and political implications of artistic and anthropological practice. Parr’s work and my ethnographic research can be seen to produce “relational aesthetics”.

Paper long abstract:

Nicolas Bourriaud (2002) has coined the term “relational aesthetics” to consider how the practice of artists may generate not only artefacts but new social arrangements, that, in turn, can be politically transformative. Therefore, social configurations can also be seen to present different “aesthetic forms” and “shapes”. In this paper I will use Bourriaud’s concept to consider the work of both artists and anthropologists. I will do so by drawing a comparison between my ethnographic work at the British seaside and that of the photographer Martin Parr – who has become globally well-known for his photos of seaside towns. While conducting long-term ethnographic research in Margate, a seaside town in South East England, I have been able to engage with research interlocutors who have participated in Martin Parr’s photographs. Although neither I or Parr, at the time, necessarily intended to directly interfere in the social arrangements of the communities we were working with, I consider how the “methods” we applied generate more than artefacts – either photographs, in his case, or anthropological publications, in mine. By addressing interlocutors’ interpretations of such events, I discuss how the very encounter between artists or anthropologists with local interlocutors produce “relational aesthetics” that engender particular power structures. Although the connection between anthropological practice and the reproduction of power is now widely discussed, here I draw attention to aspects of anthropological practice (e.g. the “shape” of fieldwork) that are often considered the “backstage” of what we do, therefore avoiding critical scrutiny.

Panel P165a
Engaging with aesthetic forms: Approaching the sociopolitical embedding and agency of arts [AntArt network]
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -