Reflexive Essay

The most difficult element of this visual project was coming up with a suitable title. It was difficult, because, as with every ethnographic film (more so every film) a title sets the atmosphere of the film. Therefore having a faulty title that fails to communicate information about the film contributes to the potential failure of a film. The final title of the film was derived from a book I had read in a previous module. Wagner writes about invention and re-invention in his book “The Invention of Culture” (1982). There he offers a theory of re-invention which occurs through the interaction of the conventional and the un-conventional (ibid). Such a theory appears quite central to culture and I found it very significant when discussing the lives of University students. Addressing the topic of shifts in culture myself, I have titled my film “The Re-invention of Food Culture”. Through this reflexive essay, I will offer details what other sources of inspiration brought me to create such a film and how I have grown from the process.

On being tasked with the job of creating a film, one of the first things that came to mind was; what ethnographic films have I watched and enjoyed. Photo Wallahs was particularly inspiring as the film was very collaborative and their process of filming quite similar to mine. David and Judith MacDougall set out to find a specific kind of photography in the small town of Mussoorie in India (1991). However, they were met with a plethora of different types of photography and decide to capture all the different strokes on camera (ibid). In like manner, when I set out to film students and food, I expected to focus on how students have changed their diet in relation to food. However, I found even more unique stories about how culture plays an impact on identity and food. Through the process of filming I was led to learn that health can be a factor, but it is not the most significant in every student’s life. Right from the onset of the film, I was called to pick upon what my participants felt was important about food, as opposed to what I thought was important.

Being particular in my choice to film students and food were choices both related to my personal food journey as a student. Moving to University calls for a major change in one’s lifestyle, especially when the move calls for moving environments. My undergraduate degree involved me moving from Essex to Canterbury, to Denmark and then back to Canterbury again. Through each move I experienced many food challenges, learning to cook what I love and yet learn to master new ingredients. All this while I was attempting to keep my diet as healthy as possible.  It is with this mind-set that I went forth to create this film. In addition to this, my research showed very few anthropological studies look at the lives of students and I believe this film will make an effort to joining those few.

On considering a methodological approach, I intended to have my participants answer a series of questions. However, I sometimes found that approach unnecessary. Due to the fact that food is such an accessible topic, all of my participants were eager to talk, some without ceasing. In fact I had some talking for a period of 20 minutes before I had even got a word in. This made the project relatively easy as I did not need to use a list of questions to get the answers I needed. The filming process took the manner of observational cinema, food as a topic seemed to revolve around many similar points for the students. Due to this fact, I felt it was important to let the students speak to the camera their own individual stories. This meant taking a lesser role in terms of direction of thought for the film. As Young blatantly points out, the absence of the film maker in the film is complemented by his heavy presence in the editing process (1975). I have made myself absent from the filming as my presence would have called for a much longer film (Barbash et al 1996). However my person is present in the editing choices I have made through the course of creating the film. This form of research is evidently a collaborative one. In a similar manner to Jean Rouch use of feedback sessions in his film “Chronique d’un ete” (1960), my participants exercised their authority to select which scenes they thought was worthy to be edited upon.

The collaborative aspect of this film was an opportunity to experience negotiating with participants in real life situations. During the course of filming I came to understanding how incredibly difficult the work of a visual anthropologist can be. In gathering equipment, organising schedules against locations and proper lighting conditions, staged photography and filming suddenly made more sense. In a particular case, I had a participant request that I should leave the cameras rolling and exit the room. She believed that my absence would provide me the best footage possible from her. This experience reminded me to Sontag’s description of the camera as a weapon (1979). I was specifically concerned about the filmmaker’s almost sovereign authority from her point of view. Footage is captured and immortalized through the internet or memory sticks, therefore it was important for me to be a benevolent cameraman. Consent is a large part of anthropology, and it goes hand in hand with proper representation of participants involved. Instead of doing what has been done for decades or what I thought was appropriate, in this situation I chose to respect the wishes of my participant.

For me the film is a constant reminder of all the struggles involved to create something so beautifully short. It is in the hopes that someone should be educated about anthropology, food, and students that this film was created. Understanding that culture and food cannot be separated when it comes to the lives of students is important. More so it is important to recognise that in a melting pot that is a University, students create new food cultures which are then passed on from generation to generations. In a way, the University becomes a breeding ground for diverse food cultures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

  • Barbash, I., MacDougall, D., Taylor, L., & MacDougall, J (1996). Reframing Ethnographic Film: A “Conversation” with David MacDougall and Judith MacDougall.American Anthropologist98(2), 371–387
  • MacDougall, D. MacDougall, J (1991). Photo Wallahs. United Kingdom
  • Rouch, J & Edgar, Mm (1961) Chronique d’un été. France : Argos Films
  • Sontag, S (1978) On Photography Harmondsworth: Penguin
  • Wagner, R (1982). The Invention of Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Young, C (1975). ‘Observational Cinema’ in P Hockings (ed) Principles of Visual Anthropology. Mouton de Gruyter Berlin, New York

 

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