Annotation: Rouch, Jean. 1974. The Camera and Man.

Rouch, Jean. 1974. The Camera and Man. Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication 1(1):37-44.

Rouch acknowledges Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North, 1922) as the unconscious inventor of participant observation and feedback (so-called audiovisual reciprocity)in ethnographic methods. According to Rouch, Flaherty originated participant observation by requesting the cooperation of the Inuit people in the production of the film, and by developing and screening his footage on-site, which made possible the immediate receipt and exchange of feedback. Before Flaherty, the visualization of the “exotic” focused on the depiction of landscapes as pristine, and of humans as objects of curiosity. Nanook of the North, on the other hand, presents the human subjects as persons with emotions, while nature (landscapes) is presented as a dynamic setting in which humans struggle for survival. Filmmaking is eventually for the self, Rouch says. He also argues that it will always be possible to justify filmmaking scientifically, politically, or aesthetically, but in the end, film is the only means by which a filmmaker shows his/her subject(s) how he/she sees them. It is after the “pleasure of the cine-trance” that the filmmaker is able to return the film to his/her first public – the people that he/she filmed. Rouch notes that observation will no longer be unidirectional (anthropologist to anthropological subject). He adds that increasingly, anthropologists themselves, and their culture, will be observed and recorded by those who were once in front of the cameras. It is through this reversal, Rouch says, that anthropology will be “shared” (anthropologie partagée). For Rouch, this type of participatory research, however idealistic, seems to be the “only morally and scientifically feasible attitude” (during his time). The beginnings and eventual rise of the cinéma vérité genre must also be situated within the developments of what Rouch referred to as the “eclipse” of the mainstream cinema industry. As Rouch reflects, the “betrayal” of authenticity by mainstream cinema encouraged Mead and Bateson to pursue their university-funded “Character Formation” visual projects in Bali and New Guinea, thus making a point that it was “absurd to try to mix research and commercialism” (33).


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