Many anthropologists drawn to experimental forms of ethnography have gravitated toward images as method. Lisa Stevenson (2014, 10) has proposed an “anthropology through the image,” suggesting that “drawing our anthropological attention back to imagistic rather than discursive modes of knowing allows us to be faithful to…experiences that have often gone unthought in ethnography.” Similarly, Michael Taussig (2011, 13) has characterized the immediacy of the drawn sketch as a mode of ethnographic understanding, writing that “drawing intervenes in the reckoning of reality in ways that writing and photography do not.” Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab has produced films including Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Leviathan, in which worlds are explored entirely through visual and sonic forms. As Stevenson and Eduardo Kohn (2015, 52) have suggested, Leviathan is “more like an ethnographic dream than a film.” They argue that “if the so-called ‘ontological turn’ in anthropology . . . is about finding ways to make room for other kinds of realities that we discover ethnographically without domesticating them as human, social, cultural, or linguistic constructions, then Leviathan provides a sensorial method for allowing these realities to make us over” (Stevenson and Kohn 2015, 52).
Images and image-making have increasingly become objects of anthropological inquiry, inspiring such work as Anand Pandian’s (2015) Reel World, which explores the anthropology of creation through an ethnography of Tamil cinema; Richard Baxstrom and Todd Meyers’s (2016) Realizing the Witch, a reflection on Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 film Häxan; Tarek Elhaik’s (2016) The Incurable-Image, on Mexican curatorial practices; and the Cultural Anthropology website’s own Visual and New Media Review.
Echoing throughout this work in and on images is a larger question regarding the role of ethnography in the production of anthropological knowledge. This Correspondences session invites five anthropologists to ask: What form of understanding do images afford? How might images enable the anthropologist to access other worlds and forms of thought? What is an anthropology of or through the image? And what might engaging images as method or object contribute to contemporary anthropology?
Lisa Stevenson (“Images”) is Associate Professor and William Dawson Scholar in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University. Her book Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic won the 2015 Victor Turner Book Prize. Her current ethnographic film project concerns the Inuit experience of being forced to leave their home communities and to live for an undetermined period of time in a tuberculosis sanatorium.
Stephanie Spray (“Record”) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Critical Media Practices at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is an anthropologist and filmmaker with an interest in the poetics and beauty to be found in everyday life. She worked in Nepal for over fifteen years, where she made a number of films, including Manakamana, As Long As There’s Breath, Untitled, Monsoon-Reflections, and Kāle and Kāle. She is currently in postproduction for a film shot over ten weeks at sea on a scientific drilling vessel, the JOIDES Resolution.
Anand Pandian (“Becoming Here”) teaches anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent books include Reel World: An Anthropology of Creation and Crumpled Paper Boat: Experiments in Ethnographic Writing, the latter coedited with Stuart McLean. He is now working on a small book of essays on problems of method in anthropology and ethnography.
Todd Meyers (“Trespass”) is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Society, Health, and Medicine at New York University Shanghai. His recent book on nonfiction film (with Richard Baxstrom), Violence’s Fabled Experiment, will be published by August Verlag this spring.
Tarek Elhaik (“Cogitation”) is Associate Professor of Anthropology and founder of AIL: Anthropology of the Image Lab at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of The Incurable-Image: Curating Post-Mexican Film and Media Arts and is currently working on a new book titled Cogitations, in which he examines anthropologically and philosophically the lives of a few contemporary artists and architects.
Baxstrom, Richard, and Todd Meyers. 2016. Realizing the Witch: Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible. New York: Fordham University Press.
Elhaik, Tarek. 2016. The Incurable-Image: Curating Post-Mexican Film and Media Arts. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.
Pandian, Anand. 2015. Reel World: An Anthropology of Creation. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Stevenson, Lisa, and Eduardo Kohn. 2015. “Leviathan: An Ethnographic Dream.” Visual Anthropology Review 31, no. 1: 49–53.
Taussig, Michael. 2011. I Swear I Saw This: Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely My Own. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.