The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

Shared Visual Anthropology: Sharing the Way of Filmmaking

Joint Research Coordinator MURAO Seiji

Reserch Theme List


visual anthropology, film/cinema, share

Major Objectives (Application 3: Extract of Research Objectives)

At present the world is awash in visuals, and there seem to be all kinds of visuals of everything from ethnic groups in remote areas to our lifestyle spaces. Anthropology too makes extensive use of visuals in everything from research and education to the publication of results. The precipitous increase in the publication of visuals by scholarly societies is clear evidence of this fact. Also true is that amidst these conditions we are proceeding without having achieved a common understanding regarding visuals. How do researchers and residents of areas being studied jointly own visuals, and what are the ethics surrounding the creation of visuals?—These are some of the issues that require full-fledged discussion.

Jean Rouch (1917-2004) played the pivotal role in the establishment of visual anthropology by showing how anthropologists and the people living in an area of study could share research results through the common experience of viewing visuals, and thus made it possible for anthropology to explore new possibilities for visuals. Such experiments are collectively referred to as “shared anthropology.”

This research will adhere to this shared viewpoint. Actually, this shared “seeing” in itself is meaningless. Visuals production (filmmaking) is a complex activity that involves (1) pre-production; (2) production—including negotiations in the survey area, shooting and related negotiations; and (3) post-production—including editing, preview screening at the survey site, publication of results and storage. The objectives of this research will be to study the various processes in filming, develop multifaceted debate concerning the ethics and rights supporting anthropological visuals, as well as methods to encourage receptiveness and sharing, and stake out future possibilities for visual anthropology.

Research Results

Using "sharing" as the keyword, the purpose of this Inter-University Research Project was to reconsider the diverse uses of visual images in anthropology. With the growing ease of using imaging equipment, it has become common for anthropologists, including those who do not regard themselves as visual anthropologists, to use visual materials in documenting, analyzing and presenting their fieldwork. At present, however, most examples are applications by individuals. This trend provides the background against which we reexamined work produced in visual anthropology before the individualization of imaging technologies, when local people were involved in the work in diverse ways jointly with researchers. The objectives were 1. to review previous anthropological use of images from the perspective of co-production, and 2. to reconsider current uses of the images from common points of view, in order to examine future directions for the use of images in anthropology.

  1. Starting with the work of Jean Rouch, a central figure in the formation of visual anthropology, we examined production processes and how they affect visual output in the work of both cultural anthropologists and filmmakers who tried filming with awareness of sharing. What all of those examined have in common is that they did not regard those whose images they captured during fieldwork only as subjects for photography or filmmaking. Surprised by their subjects' deep insights and sensibilities regarding nature, cultural anthropologists and filmmakers involved them actively in jointly producing the images in which they appear.
  2. "Sharing" can be interpreted as "partaking". The aim is not only a research result, since it is important that sharing include participation in the production process. In this sense both researchers and the people whose lives they study are leading persons in filming. This basic principle remains unchanged in a world where everyone has easy access to AV equipment. This perspective, therefore, will be a vital part of constructing new relationships between anthropology and image.

Participants in this project embraced co-production. This included a) documenting traditional knowledge, editing the images taken together with local people and letting them use the completed film in their own society, and b) involving local people in every stage of the production process, from planning, shooting and film-showing. We see these cases as models for further exploration of the potential of incorporating visual images in cultural anthropological research, and aim to continue working in this direction.