Anthropology and Portrait Photography

Please take a look at this feature in the Guardian, as the photos are beautiful, and very emotive.

I think photography is fascinating and can be very aesthetically striking.

From an anthropological perspective I believe that portraits objectify a person. The resulting image is likely to be contrived: it is difficult to relax and ‘act normally’ when a camera has been pointed at you.

Although Lee Jeffries (author of above image) suggests that portraits “tell of the hardship of life on the streets perhaps better than the subjects could themselves” I disagree, as facial expressions are so transitory that they cannot be said to encompass the individual’s experience of life. The subject’s own description of life gives us insight into what they consider important and worth discussing, and linguistic quirks also tell us a lot about a culture.
To avoid anthropology becoming redundant it could do with becoming more accessible to the public, and encouraging an introspective deliberation of our own cultures. There is so much we can learn from others about the way we live our own lives.

Anthropology could benefit from photography when used in exhibitions with accompanying text, or with film.I hope to hold my own exhibition one day! But for now I will have to hunt out other’s.

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Creativity and Homelessness

An initial inspiration for this project was an ongoing discussion with a friend on the homeless lifestyle, and what we could learn from it. Interestingly I got asked this very question at the first screening of my film (and I have my own ideas on the answer) but I find the creativity and resourcefulness of those without a traditional homebase fascinating. I have just come across a part fictional, part biographical, and beautifully artistic account of living in a tent and surviving off the land. There is a deep appreciation of the surroundings, and the bond that can develop between two people.

It can be read here, and is worth taking a look at if you have an interest in photographic anthropology.

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Editing seems to be consuming all my time at the moment, especially as I am learning on the job having never done anything like this before. But I am pleased with the amount of footage I have that I am able to use, and a narrative is coming together nicely after watching it all several times, and then several times again! I have also been lucky enough to have people to show and discuss it with, and their feedback has been invaluable to the creative process, so thankyou, you know who you are!

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Filming has come to an end…

Although if it was up to me and I had more freedom with this project, I would spend a lot more time on the fieldwork as three months has felt pretty short. But because I could gather a lot more footage, I have had to restrict myself and enforce a deadline, to give myself enough time to put a coherent film together, as well as write up my accompanying dissertation.

But I have enough material to edit a ‘discussion’ of sorts, and as my supervisor pointed out there is no point overloading yourself, and less footage may enable a more brutal, succinct collection of shots.

It has been an enjoyable experience, and I hope to continue to visit the Open Centre while I am living in Canterbury!

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‘Mirror Mirror’ – Club Wotever

Another film in our ‘Film and Advocacy’ series here at UKC was Zemirah Moffat‘s ‘Mirror Mirror’: an exploration of queer identity and the dialogue individuals have with themselves and this identity. She is inspired by filmmaker Jean Rouch, who she says “placed a call for the audio-visual counter gift as a stimulant for mutual understanding and a route to the heart of knowledge”.

I found her work an inspiration to my own, as a representation of an often misrepresented or sensationalised group of people in a way that provides them with empowerment through their actions in the here and now. As one of the characters puts it, “having to tell people how hard your life has been to justify how you live now does not equal empowerment”. This was a sentiment that I was aware of throughout my filming, and attempted to avoid using stereotypical techniques of representation such as ‘human interest’ sob stories, and images of isolation or ostracisation. Instead I purposefully worked around the answers that the audience might be used to being fed, and allowed the subjects to lead me into an exploration of relationships and their behaviour ‘in the moment’. To do so I had to get really involved and engaged, and build up a level of trust that allowed my questions to ellicit more personal answers.

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Generalising the subject

Kurt Wolff:

“Man, in contrast to all other phenomena in the universe, can be done justice to only by surrender and catch – or invention – rather than by the customary varieties of describing, defining, or reducing to instances of generalisations”

1964, pg 241

I am faced with the problem of representation; how do I present my fieldwork in 10 minutes, whilst at the same time avoiding generalising the individuals I got to know?

Sometimes generalisations have to be made, in order to enable you to relate to people and situations that you haven’t encountered before, drawing on past experiences; for example general knowledge on the effects that drugs or alcohol are going to have on a person’s behaviour.

I will just have to make sure that I don’t attempt to claim anything, and just wish to represent what I experienced over the course of my fieldwork, and provide the audience with a range of perspectives that allows them to make up their own mind.

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Sarah Kay: If I should have a daughter…

I came across this video the other day, and apart from being really inspirational , I related to what Sarah Kay was saying about presenting yourself through your work, and reaching the audience in a way that is unique to you. I think with film it is especially poignant, as you can show it to different audiences at different times, and their reaction to it could be different, so you end up learning from them.

Here is an excerpt from her final poem, ‘Hiroshima’:

“While you are speaking, they aren’t just waiting for their turn to talk. They feel exactly what you feel at the same time that you feel it […] When I meet you, at that moment I am no longer a part of your future, I start quickly becoming part of your past. But in that instant, I get to share your present, and you get to share mine, and that is the greatest present of all.”

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