'Black is': A reflection
The concept for my ethnographic film was sparked when I got to be a part of a photoshoot (see 'The essence of black beauty' in the blog section). I began to ponder on what it meant to be black in today's society and why one's identity is so important to them. Similarly, I gained some inspiration from Carrie Mae Weems 'Kitchen table series' (1996) which enabled me to provide a space where people could speak freely, be themselves and talk about this complex topic. Moreover, studying modules such as Emotion, Media and Culture, Ethnicity and Nationalism and Race and Racism, earlier in my course, allowed me to deeper explore and understand the concept of identity.
Before conceiving my film, I knew that I had to concentrate on identity as I wanted to know why it was so significant in today's society. The question was how and what approaches I would take. For starters, I aimed to try to replicate Weems' premise as I wanted people to dig deep and search for the meaning of identity and what being 'black is'. The table where the filming took place was supposed to be symbolic such that it acted as space where people could speak about their experiences openly, share and be genuinely reflective. During their sharing process, it reminded me so much of Unii Wikans concept of 'Resonance' which fostered an element of feeling and compassion. In addition, it resonated with the sharing groups portrayed in Three Miles North of Molkom (2008).
However, Covid-19 hindered my process, and I was unable to garner more footage. My only option was to use what I had and look for alternative methods to communicate what I had in mind. I began to look for research that resonated with the concept of 'Black is'. It was then when I came across artists and theorists such as Ngend'o Muki, Frans Fanon, Hawardena Pindell and Marlon Riggs who focused on the identity in a variety of ways. They had similar concepts that echoed the footage that I had and concentrated on the premise of identity, colourism and cultural assimilation. By including their work, it allowed me to go further and communicate the pure quintessence of 'Black is'. It allowed me to dig deeper within my premise and its relevance in today's scope, which can serve as a form of public anthropology.
By the same token during our Visual Lectures back in the winter term, I drew a lot of my inspiration from the films that we had watched. Specifically, one film that stood out is the documentary 'War Photographer' (2001) directed by Christian Frei who follows photojournalist James Nachtwey. I particularly admired the way that he captured people in his film. It was so raw and authentic that I intended to do the same with 'Black is'. Moreover, I admired his ability to be reflexive. Jay Ruby states that to be reflexive in anthropology is when the producer decides to make his awareness of a self-public matter and convey that knowledge to his audience (Ruby, 1980). In essence, reflexivity is giving the audience additional context surrounding the product, meaning whom it was produced by and how it was produced. This concept is instrumental in 'War Photographer' as Natchwey made himself known from the onset of the documentary. Equally, from the beginning, there was the clarity with Natchwey’s task. He embarked on a journey, and through his camera equipment, he immersed us into that same journey giving us a clear insight and deep understanding of what he intended to communicate. Just as, Ruby emphasises that being reflexive is to structure a product in such a way that the audience assumes that the produced, process and the outcome are coherent (Ruby, 1980). This was actioned in the documentary as the way Natchwey moved with his camera, seemed very in sync. His camera was an extension of him, and while watching this, I was able to see this as the technique was so well executed. Natchweys filming technique absorbed the audience into intense scenes shot during the film eliciting emotions within us.
Likewise, I aimed to be as reflexive as Natchwey as I intended to communicate the essence of identity and what it meant to people. As mentioned above, the table where the filming took place symbolically provided a space where people could indeed be reflective and self-aware of their own experience. Moreover, the questions I provided to the participants were intended to evoke a thoughtful mindset. The questions that I had given my participants allowed them to speak freely, think back to their own experience and share their experiences. By extension, this allowed me to be reflective and meditate on the abstraction of identity- what being black is. Moreover, in the footage section of this interactive website, I tried to place myself in the position of the participants and answer some of the questions which allowed me to practise reflexivity more and hints of resonance. By taking this approach, enabled me to share this experience with the viewer, draw them closer, and invite them into the conversation that is 'Black Is'.
1. Khan Academy. n.d. Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Woman Feeding Bird), The Kitchen Table Series, 1989-90 (Video) | Khan Academy. [online] Available at: < [Accessed 11 April 2020].
2. RUBY, J. (1980). Exposing yourself: Reflexivity, anthropology, and film. Semiotica, 30(1-2).
3. Three miles north of Molkom. 2009. [film] Directed by R. Cannan and C. McFarlane. Sweden.
4. War Photographer. 2001. [film] Directed by C. Frei. Christian Frei Film Productions.