EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

Negotiating imaginaries: explorations of vernacular audiovisual production
Location SO-D320
Date and Start Time 14 Aug, 2018 at 10:30
Sessions 1


  • Alex Vailati (Federal University of Pernambuco) email
  • Carmen Rial (Federal University of Santa Catarina) email

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Short abstract

This panel will discuss ethnographic possibilities for approaching the relevant fields of "vernacular" audiovisual practices and archives. Focusing on field-based research we will explore how these videos are produced from an economic, political and aesthetic perspective.

Long abstract

The aim of this panel is to discuss the ethnographic possibilities for approaching the relevant fields of "vernacular" audiovisual practices and archives. Beginning with family cinema, the panel will explore different fields such as videos commissioned by ethnic organizations, institutions or political networks and other amateur videos.

Production companies today specialize in recording specific moments of social life. The example of the so-called family cinema phenomenon is probably one of the most relevant, in which videos turn family events into memories. These films often use highly sophisticated cinema languages and continuous aesthetic experimentation coupled with ingenious distribution strategies, often through social networks. These videos result from interesting processes of negotiation and interaction between clients and video makers. If, in many cases, these audiovisuals incorporated ethnographic approaches, contemporary ethnography reveals how those sources can be gateways to fields that had been difficult to enter.

We will address the influence of field-based research on how "on-demand videos" are produced from an economic, political and aesthetic perspective.

In addition to the professional recording of social life, amateur videos have proliferated in social networks, revealing intimate spaces, which has allowed visual access that in the past required long negotiations between ethnographers and informants.

The analyses of these videos and their topos can be a key strategy for understanding how imaginaries are "locally produced" and how they relate to both local realities and global narratives. This analysis can also indicate how ethnography can utilize these new data sources.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Making Commissioned Home Movies in a "Gypsy Hood"

Author: Jonathan Larcher (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales) email
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Short abstract

The aim of this contribution is to give an account of the contrast between the visuality and lived experiences involved in the making of commissioned home movies and the historicity of such images, pointing to a common field of research between visual ethnography and amateur film history

Long abstract

This paper is based on a visual ethnographic research carried out among a "Gypsy Hood" (țigănie) in Romania. From 2007 to 2011, at the request of my contacts, I recorded and edited more than thirty "commissioned home movies" (AASMAN, 1995) - for weddings, baptisms, funerals - typically for a monetary compensation. This interaction with my clients and musicians took the form of an "education of attention" (GIBSON, 1979).

Firstly, my presentation focuses on my personal experiences with shooting and production processes, describing in particular how the use of my camera was intricately linked to a network of social practices, power and contractual relationships, an ecology of images and vernacular filmic practices (such as the musical clips of "manele" or the telenovelas), and the gender dimensions of image-based media.

This paper draws also on a second research topic. Through the constant copying and burning of flimsy DVDs, the "filtering" of the digital media through my contacts' diverse computer hardware and software profiles, or my attempts to salvage and digitize their VHS tapes, I experienced "the sense of time and temporality inscribed in the materiality of media technologies" (FICKERS, VAN DEN OEVER, 2014). Here plays out the tension between the significance of these commissioned home movies in contributing to the atmosphere of the celebrations, contrasting with the rapid obsolescence and disappearance of the technological applications that allowed them to exist, and the resulting progressive erasure of the resulting images.

IED explosions recorded by infantrymen with their helmet cameras: studying the soldier's intimate relation to the counterinsurgency battlefield

Author: Noemie Oxley (American University of Paris) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores, from the study of a soldier's amateur video of an IED explosion followed by an ambush, the nature of the guerrilla battlefield for the soldier, and the ways in which the "low-intensity" chaos imposed by enemy forces impact him mentally and physically.

Long abstract

This paper is based on a study of vernacular productions shot by American soldiers deployed in Iraq and posted on YouTube. It discusses the ways in which these individual videos respond to the sanitized, spectacular and bloodless visual coverage of Shock and Awe provided by the U.S. military-entertainment complex.

I focus on soldiers' direct accounts of roadside bombs and ambushes on the counterinsurgency battlefield, through the study of a particular video filmed by an infantryman with his helmet camera and posted on his YouTube channel in 2009. Through this study, I investigate the "combat patterns" and "tactics of the body" (Mauss, 1974; Devictor, 2004) developed by soldiers as they face insurgents' operations. Despite their training - including virtual simulators - encouraging them to recognize manifestations of danger and to anticipate threats, the videos convey mainly the soldiers' vulnerability in the face of insurgents' random and lethal attacks, while exposing the intimate impact of such events on their bodies.

This paper uses this analysis to develop on the methodological framework adapted to these productions. Relying on the iconological method (Warburg, 1912; Rampley, 2001; Mitchell, 2005; Ginzburg, 2010), it places the soldier's video in dialogue with other amateur productions, TV shows, and First Person Shooter video games sequences focusing on similar events. I ultimately investigate the nature of the guerrilla battlefield for the soldier by replacing the subjects filming at the heart of a battlefield marked by opacity and invisibility, against the dehumanized visual accounts provided by official war communication.

Handcrafting memories: an ethnography of family cinema production

Author: Alex Vailati (Federal University of Pernambuco) email
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Short abstract

Aim of this study is to explore the practice of family film production and, in particular, elites' weddings films. It is based on fieldwork conducted in the metropolitan region of Recife, one of the largest state capital cities in Brazil's Northeast.

Long abstract

Considered to be residual productions by film critics, so-called social- or family-films have become an emblematic object of anthropological research, as well as a consistent field of audio-visual production. From a commercial perspective, the production of videos about weddings, birthdays or other moments considered to be significant to families or social groups have become an important market segment, where professional skills are constantly called upon and new formal modals regularly developed. This important field of study, which from a perspective of the social sciences and cinematographic criticism only becomes relevant though the lens of time, is essential for reflecting on how future memories are produced.

The objective of this study is to explore the practice of family film production. Two principal perspectives mark the study and are intimately connected: the first is related to the choice of the ritual moment to be analysed and the second delimits the social group examined. Considering that this study was conducted in the metropolitan region of Recife, one of the largest state capital cities in Brazil's Northeast, which suffers great inequality of wealth and power, it became fundamental to focus the study on urban elites. The family film thus became a window to enter this world, where access by anthropologists is normally restricted.

The Founding Myths Of Born-Digital Art

Author: Axelle Van Wynsberghe (Utrecht University) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores the founding myths of a community of artists who work with digital technologies, and whose practice revives utopian ideals of the early web, analyzing how they reconcile contradictions between visible/opaque, emancipation/capture, and enchantment/disenchantment.

Long abstract

Since the advent of the internet, a community of artists have engaged with emerging digital technologies in a field of practices that have been indicated with overlapping denominations such as net.art, net art, media art, new media art, internet art, post-internet art, screen-based art, digital art, and born-digital art. These artists' experimentations with the vernacular web will showcase how politics and aesthetics are ever-more interlinked since the computational revolution. Case studies of artists Hito Steyerl, Olia Lialina, Constant Dullaart, Harm van den Dorpel, and Katja Novitskova will be used to delineate the mythos of born-digital art in relation to the development of the Internet. These artists' work allows an urgent look into the increasing configuration of user culture online, the standardization of the web and its platforms, the instrumentalization of social quantification to manipulate and control public opinion, and the 'capture' of user participation. Taking the art institution LIMA as the central node of my fieldwork, this ethnography will showcase how born-digital art emerged in response to three founding myths: the internet as 'pure possibility', which in and of itself held emancipatory potential, and was lost when the internet 'died' in the year 2000. This paper outlines how the born-digital art community attempts to find resolution between the visible/opaque, emancipation/capture, and enchantment/disenchantment through these founding myths. This research will serve to illuminate the role of myth in artistic production, and shed light on how anthropology might foster alternative methods for analyzing contemporary discourses on technological development.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.