Ethnographic Film

Pamela Wilson

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:
Ethnographic Film

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The relationship between visual media and anthropology has a long history growing out of the imperializing impulses of the 19th century, and anthropologists—as well as others such as cultural explorers, scientists, geographers, journalists, and travel writers—have long used forms of visual media to document their impressions of and perspectives about what we might call the cultural “Other”: cultures that have seemed different, exotic, or fascinating to us. Until the 1980s, in fact, anthropologists traditionally studied small, isolated, and traditional communities, and these small-scale societies dominated the subfield of ethnographic film and visual anthropology. Today, the field of visual anthropology contains several distinct subfields, ranging from ethnographic film to indigenous media and media anthropology, and intersects as well with museum studies. In an effort to complement the Oxford Bibliographies article on Visual Anthropology by Marcus Bank, this bibliography charts the predecessors of ethnographic film as well as emerging fields most related to ethnographic film. It begins with the evolution from the early usage of visuals (photography, film, museum exhibits, and other forms of visual culture) to support and enhance traditional written ethnographic monographs, long considered the most valid form of expressing anthropological and imperial knowledge of the cultural Other. Then it moves quickly into the ethnographic film movement, peaking in the 1970s and 1980s, when anthropological filmmakers (or anthropologists in partnership with documentary filmmakers) created filmic records or documents of the cultures they were studying. Along the way, some intersections between ethnographic and experimental filmmaking are examined. Beginning in the late 1980s, the approach by which the anthropologists placed the cameras in the hands of their cultural subjects and encouraged them to create their own auto-ethnographic films blossomed out of the “postmodern” turn in anthropological thought, leading to a subfield of visual anthropology called “Indigenous Media,” which is introduced here. Also during this period, a spate of scholarly literature and documentary media was sparked by the feminist and postcolonial paradigms. Issues raised by ethnographic film and the scholarship surrounding it have invited a larger discourse, both scholarly and artistic, about broader forms of representation that represent what might be called the “ethnographic gaze” (such as Coco Fusco’s and Guillermo Gomez-Pena’s critical performance piece “Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West”), but these are unfortunately beyond the scope of this bibliography.

Article.  11383 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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