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In 2011 I left my job at a youth charity in East London with the intention to take up a place I had on an MA in Visual Anthropology at Goldsmiths, after completing a BA Anthropology degree there in 2005. In the summer leading up to the start of the course, I began to make films about art projects via commissions, learning to film and edit as I went. In the end, deep into the joy of creating films, I decided not to take up the place, and instead continued to expand my filmmaking. I now have a seven year history of working within the arts, education and charity sectors, documenting projects and manifestos, responding to projects and social issues, or working with artists to produce work. A lot of my clients and work are interconnected, so through continued working in the same spaces and causes over the years, I have a unique view of how issues and places are connected, and the webs of relationships that form around them.
My work always seeks to distill the truth of a situation, but I recognise that this truth also sits within the constraints of the brief I am given. I will have researched each subject prior to filming, understood the wider role of the artist or organisation in the world, observed what I am told and not told, and then during filming I work as un-intrusively as possible capturing what is in front of me.
I carry my early studies of anthropology with me, valuing the voice of those I interview and film, providing them a platform to tell their story, and striving to represent them as truthfully as is possible. Of course, as editor, camera-woman, director and producer I am in control of every frame, so the very presence of the camera and myself automatically creates problems within this ‘truth’. It is a subjective lens, it is still their world, but through my singular interpretation of what I saw on that day, who I spoke to, what I was able to understand, and what learned ideas, consciously or unconsciously, I am bringing.
I often think of that MA in Visual Anthropology and wonder where my work would sit now had its influence been echoing down the years. Or what I would now bring to the course with all my years of interviewing and filming under my belt. This art based ethnography course arrives at what feels like a moment of pause in my practice, after recently returning from two months away travelling. I also look globally at the flood of images and words that greet us daily, and how decisions made at global levels impact on the small conversations and actions of our fellow humans.
How does Lesvos fit into this narrative? Recently I interviewed a refugee from Western Sahara, born in a refugee camp in Algeria. She told me it is women who built the camp and continue to maintain it, and women who educate the children there to the best of their ability, and now there sat this young woman stretching out into the world, learning english in order to tell the story of her people, and lift them up.
For me, my brain automatically tips into how her story relates to the projects I’m associated with in looking at how technology can improve education across the globe, including within refugee camps; what are the echoes with the work of a charity I filmed with in Malawi looking to improve sanitation so girls can stay in school during menstruation; how does this relate to the artist responding to a scientists research around climate change; and how does this all fit in with ideas around a sense of community, both locally and globally, and what we owe to them?
The interview with this young refugee was conducted at a conference about multilingualism within education. The film I am commissioned to produce for the client is a 3 minute summary film of the day I was there, touching on broad themes. This cannot even begin to illustrate the nuance of her story, and also everyone else who I interviewed that day. Their stories will be represented, but the richness of it lost amongst the keynotes, and soundbites, and shots of ‘delegates networking’.
I want to be able to give more to these stories, and the hundreds of others I have in the terabytes of interview footage built over the years. At the moment it doesn’t feel like I have the time, space and structure to do so. I still get to work with organisations and people whose work and passion I admire and believe in, but the end product I am currently delivering doesn’t even begin to do justice to these narratives.
I am competing with YouTube algorithms, key messages and ‘essential talking heads’. I am constricted by a brief, a swift turnaround, and a budget.
So what would happen if these were removed? If there was the luxury of time and space to get under the skin of somewhere. To fully explore the ethnographic and artistic dimensions of one place. From initial research into Lesvos, it strikes me as a place whose story is being told globally in broad strokes. I am interested to uncover the small conversations that can be had that illustrates this place.
I see this course as an opportunity to stretch out beyond my usual format, to give time and space to my practice and the stories I carry untold. I am keen to learn about developments in ethnographic research, to learn from others, and to develop an explorative practice and take a step back to consider and adjust the work I am producing.