Reflexive Essay

It was difficult for me to complete this project for a number of reasons. Us visual anthropology students had the whole of our second term at university to film and edit our projects. We also, however, had most of the Easter holidays to make our films too. And so, in typical Kate fashion, I decided to put off my filmmaking to the last-minute and began filming the bulk of my project within the last two weeks of the deadline. I could use excuses like I had two other projects plus another dissertation to write in this term, but the truth was I was lazy. This was mistake number one and is a common mistake among creators. It is difficult to get yourself out of bed in the morning to go and make something, and as a visual anthropologist, you just have to force yourself for the cause.

Mistake number two was that, since I was filming in the Easter holiday, most of my friends had either gone home for the holidays, were too busy studying for exams to help film, or both. Some of my fellow visual anthropology students did not return tripods on time and because of the self-reduced time crunch on my filming schedule, I could not wait for one to become available. These factors massively hindered my filming and limited the kinds of shots I could take. The real nail in the coffin for my project came from my (recently diagnosed) anxiety. The thought of going out and interviewing strangers was terrifying, so terrifying that I kept having panic attacks when I was about to leave the house to go film. On reflection, this fear feels ironic, considering how the project was based on typically scary experiences.

Nevertheless, I managed to start my project and, as with the proverbial “band-aid”, once I ripped off the apprehension holding me back and just began filming and interviewing people, the anxiety I felt towards filming and interviewing lessened.

As part of my project, I thought it would be useful to keep a blog diary of the filming and editing process, along with interesting things that happened along the way. This was in the hope that not only would it be informative and fun to make and watch, but also that it would help me get used to the camera and keep me grounded; I hoped that this exercise would keep me in a reflexive mindset. Since my subjects wouldn’t be the only ones captured by the eye of my camera, I could empathise with them more and therefore have a deeper understanding of how to appropriately interact with them and give a better performance as the interviewer. The skill of creating while being reflexive is key in visual anthropology.

In my project, I used reflexive thinking to critique the footage that I captured each day, in order to find weaknesses in my filming method, so that I could improve on them for the next filming session. I also tried to keep my mind in a reflexive state while filming, so that I could get the highest quality shots from my subjects. This is especially important for a visual anthropologist since we don’t always get to ask for a second take. In the early days of recording the project, I did not think reflexively and paid the price. Prior to recording anything, I asked around to gauge whether many people had actually had ghostly experiences. A surprisingly large amount of people said that they had and that they were willing to be interviewed on them for my project. I did not engage reflexively, however, and so did not take the opportunities when they presented themselves. Visual anthropologists need to be opportunistic to an extent, in order to achieve the best shots, which in turn aid the film’s motive to the greatest degree possible.

In the module, Visual Anthropology Theory, which served as a sort of prequel to the film project module, we studied many anthropological and ethnographical works of film. One film we watched was War Photographer. This documentary followed James Nachtwey, who goes to war-torn and poverty-stricken countries to capture the essence of what life is like there through photography, in order for the rest of the world to relate and then in turn (hopefully) do something about it. In order to truly record the strife and tragedy the subjects of his photography are going through, Nachtwey has to act rather opportunistically in his pursuit of the perfect shot. Although this can make Nachtwey come off as exploiting his subjects’ grief, once you take into account the massively positive impact of his work you can see this is justified. It is important for a visual anthropologist to get good shots to help their cause to the maximum extent possible, but it is equally important to not alienate or exploit the subject. This is why in my project, I made sure to double-check with everyone I filmed that they were completely comfortable with being on camera and recorded for my project.

This project gave me my first experience filming and editing with a proper camera and equipment. This film was pretty difficult for me to make, considering my mistakes with time management, my anxiety, and my experience with editing and using proper filming equipment. Even though the end product may be a bit rough around the edges, I am proud of what I’ve achieved by making it.

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