Visual anthropology, what is the difference….

My first encounter with the terminology ‘visual Anthropology’, was during my meeting with my supervisor. while working out the modules I was about to take, she mentioned Visual anthropology to me. It triggered my fantasy, and I signed up for the module. Little did I know my imagination was going to be stretched and challenged in such way, that I would feel frustrated and stocked during this module! But…I survived, and here I am, going through the next module ‘Video Project in Visual Anthropology’, digging a bit deeper, and preparing a video project.

Visual anthropology is a new approach to the longstanding field of Anthropology. To me, Visual anthropology is like a new, refreshing wind raising Anthropology to a whole new level. One, which makes this discipline much more accessible and understandable to a wider audience. There is this ongoing discussion on ‘how to make Anthropology’ less complicated, more attractive, yet, safeguarding the academic level of the discipline. With Visual anthropology, conservative Anthropologist are being pushed out of their comfort zone, while the contemporary Anthropologist finds ways to establish new collaborations.

So, what is the difference with the ‘old skool’ Anthropology…? The point is, there is no difference. It is about an addition, and upgrade, a new to what was traditional… and as it goes with all adjustments, people need to feel it, see it working, experience it’s is not a treat to what is, and then feel comfortable and accept it. To me, this is the phase Visual Anthropology is in at the moment, and I can feel myself adjusting, pushing, holding back, and accepting in this process.

As an upcoming Anthropologist, you have to proof yourself to those who have an established name in the discipline. On top of that, you as a new comer, have to be careful with your own free spirited ideas, and that’s the challenge I am facing. As Visual Anthropology is still fighting it’s way into the conservative minds of the established Anthropologist, so am I still fighting my way into the ‘world’ of Anthropology, without loosing my own identity and uniqueness.

And this blog is about my first attempts in practicing Visual Anthropology, through the making of an video. The video reflects my journey in finding my identity in a country which is not my home country. Coincidence or not! (think about my struggle in finding my way in Anthropology)



Reflecting on writing my reflexive essay

Writing an essay in English is my biggest worry. And I’ll tell you why…my first language is Dutch, so I usually process info and reflect my thoughts in Dutch. So, while writing the reflexive essay, my mind was constantly shifting between two languages. As I write this, I realize,  I am doing the same with my lifestyle. When I am at the University, at my job, or with friends from here, I am reflecting the ‘England lifestyle’, and when I am home with my husband, on Facebook with my friends, I am reflecting the ‘Surinamese lifestyle’. Pretty confusing, one might say, it’s like juggling. And this is the process I am going through when writing my essay’s. It is a constant juggling, shifting and re-thinking. Hence my expressions of frustration during this process…


In the reflexive essay I also reflect on my challenges and frustrations in developing the video. As I am constantly shifting with my language, so does my video project reflect my identity search because of living a life in between 2 total different worlds.

The reflexive essay relates to the challenges experiences in the field and my ability to apply, and recognise the theory in the practice.

In case you are interested in the reflexive essay… click on the following link.

The reflexive essay

Change the script

While preparing for my fieldwork I quickly realized how much the plan was subject to the circumstances, and how much informants can influence the direction of the film.  For weeks I was busy planning an event, which was supposed to be the highlight of the video. Never could I have imagined what a pain it would have been to get the right persons at the right time, and in the right location. And finally, the event was set. It was set for April 16th in London….an eating with Surinamese and Dutch people living in London. During the eating, they would tell me there story on how they adapt to the English culture. You can read more about this event in my other blog ‘My field diaries’…

But, as the title of my post indicates, the script changes! In this case I am talking about the script for my video. While I was preparing my video, I had a script written as well. The script included all the scene’s I was planning to include in the film. The narrative was set! And as I went into the field to do the first shooting, I encountered the first challenge…setting the right scene…This quickly became being able to adjust to the scene! I realized how much flexibility is needed in bringing the theory into practice. What is written on paper is not always possible to implement precisely in the practical.

reading the book ‘Directing the documentary’ from Michael Rabiger was a perfect preparation for the real filming. And while I was planning my shootings, I realized the script was to help me stay focused, but at the same time, it was to provide me some room for flexibility. The flexibility was not just with the space/location, but also with the informants, and other elements such as sound and lighting. It is indeed a lot to take in consideration in order to get the right shots.

Reading ethnographies on filming, and Visual Anthropology became key in successfully accomplishing my project. I have included a page where I will reflect on some of these ethnographies.



My first date with the camera

The first time I hold the camera in my hands was very intimidating. As I said it in my first blogpost, Visual Anthropology was totally new to me, and so was working with a camera. I have been filmed before, I have worked on a film project before, but never had I used the camera myself.

So here I am, holding a camera in my hand, and feeling as if I am holding a beast ready to bite me. it was such an awkward feeling, but then I took some courage and envisioned the camera as being a part of me. I told myself, ‘girl, it is just a tool to help you capture all your imaginations, express your feelings, and show the world what you see’. A perfect way to hide behind the camera, and have the camera speak for me! And this is how I encourage myself and started to embrace the technology which worked magic for me…

I realized the power of the ‘eye of the camera’ and the limitations of my own ‘human eye’. It was clear that the camera could express in a much better way, what my own eyes are seeing. The eye of the camera captured images without judging them, and it was up to the viewer to translate what the camera has captured. An example of what I saw with my eyes, and what the camera captured is here below…

This is an interesting and eccentric building. With my own eyes I noticed so much of interesting things, so I took a picture of it. But when I watched the pictures I noticed that the camera captured much more than I wasn’t able to see with my own eyes. It perfectly framed some very interesting things. Each picture reveals a different view on the buildings eccentric.

This was my first lesson in being conscious in the use of the camera. Framing the picture for a certain effect was the lesson I learned from taking pictures of this building. An important eye-opener in preparing my shots for the video project.



A Face-Lift

The ‘poorly constructed camera’ has been adjusted.

And she is a beauty…she is able to tell the story on her own. She is a perfect representation of my interests. She has a specific identity and her intentions are clear now. The face-lift was a good investment. Take a look at the process of making her, and the end result…


She is carrying some emotional ‘stuff’ inside of her, and while sharing this emotional stuff with someone else, i was struggling to keep it together. Never would I have imagined her ability to express the real, deep feelings of her owner so precisely.

So I took her with me to the lecture today. With pride I took her out, believe it or not, everyone noticed her face-lift. And I went out with her. I am more confident now in dragging her with me, showing her to others and just enjoy the amount of compliments she is receiving.

Her transformation made me realize how important it is as a filmmaker to be aware of your power to influence, impact or even transform the subjects and or objects you are filming. As you will be representing them in your film, it is important to first understand how you would like them to be represented in the film. Think about the identity you want to give them. What kind of image you want them to portray. I am saying all of this in such a clever way, yet, I’m still a long long way from home (in understanding how to put the theory into practice)…in the meantime, just enjoy the pictures of my face-lifted symbolic camera.


The symbolic camera

Making a symbolic camera was the first assignment for the module “Project Visual Anthropology”. Somehow this assignment was not clear enough to me, so my first attempt to make the symbolic camera was a disaster. I missed out on the previous lecture, so I went online for some inspiration on making a camera.

On the day of “revealing” our symbolic camera’s, which was quit an interesting way of revealing, I immediately noticed I was far besides the purpose of the symbolic camera. It had to reflect my interest in a specific topic, being my inspiration for the production of a short film. It was during the discussions, and by viewing the symbolic camera’s of the other students, I finally understood the intention with this symbolic camera.

Instead of a symbolic camera, I made a pin-hole camera. See below what I mean by pinhole camera. And these pictures reflect how poorly constructed my camera looked.



Yet, during the whole 3 hours lecture/seminar I was doomed to use my “poorly constructed” camera. The emotions going through my mind are difficult to describe. And then there was that moment of introducing our symbolic camera to “strangers” on campus. As I was looking for that total stranger, to introducing the symbolic camera, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to engage with anyone.

Surprisingly,  it was this exercise which made me develop a different and more positive look at my camera. It was refreshing and uplifting to notice how my camera was still able to draw interest of those I exposed it to. It made me realize how different our views can be on just one particular thing. I was even able to have a real interview with a complete stranger. A very meaningful and emotional interview. People actually do not care what the camera looks like, as long as they feel comfortable and safe enough, they will open up to you. So, to me the most important fact is not the way how the camera looks, but the way how you as the interviewer engage with your informants. Important lesson learned! Another important lesson was, how much our own assumptions, reflects our fear for rejection and being judged by others. The fact that I was able to have an actual conversation/interview, even with the “poorly constructed” camera, proofed how wrong I was in my expectations.

Our lecturer Mike Poltorak stressed this point while summarizing the outcome of the lecture. The camera, whether it is symbolic or real, won’t do the work for you. You as the interviewer have to transform the camera into a “tool” to connect with your informants. And with this being said, I was determined to put some more work into my symbolic camera, and try to make it speak for itself and be a better reflection of my interests. Stay tune for the revealing of the “upgraded symbolic camera”. May these lessons learned bring me a step higher on the ladder of Understanding Visual Anthropology.