visual anthropology

This field of study starts from a questioning of current practices of description and filming of cultural groups. The knowledge and methods of the documentary producer and those of the ethnographer and social geographer are used in a complementary fashion and interactively in this research. Visual anthropology problematizes the profiling of cultural groups. An image never contains a strict definition and determination of the subject matter. In other words, an image reads as an open signifier, allowing different possible interpretations. Furthermore, it is important to realize that in our society we understand the meaning of an image mainly as conventional and hence certain power relations are maintained.

Visual anthropology is a discipline that seeks to understand how images can make a contribution to our knowledge about other cultures. Such research involves questions of an ethical and aesthetic nature as well. What is the impact of an image in relation to the culture of those represented? What is the nature of the power relation between the producer and the subject matter of a film? How can one represent in images without influencing the representation somehow? What is the value of an image if it can hardly capture reality? If a presentation of an other culture is understood to be a cliché, how does this affect the community presented? In a world where important shifts are going on - f.i. the north-south relation in a postcolonial perspective - it is of extreme relevance to see the content of images not as self-evident, but to be critical towards them.

In 1996 a project of visual anthropology was started. It was conceived as an exercise and workshop in which the attempt was made to symbiotically relate two disciplines that on first sight appear opposite and incompatible: art and science. Science and art, representation and aesthetics, methodology and imagination: they repell each other. or do they attract each other? Every year as part of the overall plan, a project is developed through a cooperation between students in documentary and students in anthropology, under the guidance of An van. Dienderen.

The idiosyncratic approach that develops through this collaboration is evident in amongst other things the chosen subject matter. Where visual anthropologists most often focus on 'the other' and give body to this concept through images taken in places far away, this research group examines 'the other/the same', that is, the cultural groups within our own society. Following world-systems thought, the world is no longer seen as a world easily divided in nations, due to subsequent waves of migration, and the notion of 'a place far away' hence loses its meaning.

The end result of each project is a film and a booklet, which are to be considered as one whole. Whereas the video 'shows' the end result, the booklet narrates the journey students made to finally arrive at this ultimate goal. It reflects upon the practice of visual anthropology as it was experienced by students as well as the participants/informants in the project. Not only the interaction between art and science, but also between the different parties involved is addressed and light is shed on the triangular relationship of 'filmmaker-scientist-participant'.

The following workshops have taken place (click for more info - in Dutch):

De slag van Vinkt (1996 - 1997)
"Vis à Vis" (1997 - 1998)
Going Underground (1998 - 1999)
Openbare ruimtes in Brussel (1999 - 2000)
Fifteen minutes of fame (2000 - 2001)
Wat doet dat lam daar? (2001 - 2002)
Ars Moriendi, Ars Vivendi (2002-2003)
Sensoriële Antropologie (2003-2004)
Quixote in Wallonië (2004-2005)

Website An van. Dienderen: