Reflexive essay

A Vauxhall Agila Ecoflex. The make and manufacture of my car. That is what cars are after all, a product of technological advancements and capitalist consumption. Products which are consumed en masse and yet, they also provide a unique space for human experience. Ingrained in our daily routines, they are companions to the mundanity of life, but to coin a phrase from Malinowski himself, the proclaimed father of anthropology, it is in the mundane, the imponderabilia of life, which we find the nuances of human experience (Malinowski 1922). The car is much more than a consumer product or a utility for routine, as my film aims to expose, the space the car represents can reveal moments of reflection, outbursts of aggression, isolation and at the same time communication with the outside world. It can be a place to develop relationships, and a setting for the deterioration of them all, in transit. A place between places.

It is then probably obvious that one of the major themes I have attempted to approach throughout my film is the idea of space. How we use it and what it means to us. The film takes great influence from Marc Auge’s (1992) Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Here Auge (1992) is going beyond the traditional community study to show how we are constantly interacting in the modern world in a myriad of new spaces, spaces which are betwixt and between places. Spaces of consumption, communication and circulation;all of which a car embodies, and yet one of the defining  factors of a non-space for Auge is its ability to strip the individual of their identity, whilst at the same time providing them with the illusion of some global schema or community. This is where the question of the space within the car becomes to me both a place and none space. It is a space between places, a product of the capitalist super modernity, imposing delusionary ideas of ‘drives’ as sharing in some sort of identity, yet it does not strip the individual of theirs, and at the same time it provides a home for the owner and a space for kinship and community identity with passengers to develop. The car provides a juxtaposed space for anthropological inquiry, the very reason I found it so intriguing as an ethnographic topic.

There are all kinds of anthropological texts on methodological ways of interacting and creating relationships of ease and comfort with informants, and how to introduce a camera into that mix. The presence of the camera will always affect the individuals on screen, I however, was in the unusual position of both protagonist and filmmaker, subject to the same omnipotent presence of the camera as those in the film alongside me. While I wanted to capture, as best I could, a reality, the presence of the camera can never truly be denied. Attempts have been made to normalise the camera’s presence, David Mcdougal would strap the camera to his person so that his informants would see it as part of himself as opposed to an alienated object. For my film the integration of the camera became more a habitual experience, normalising the setting up and taking down of the cameras before and after every journey until it became an extension of my daily routine (Bourdieu 1990). This worked to normalise the presence of the camera for myself, but different methods were needed to be embraced in order to appease its presence for my passengers. I did this by acknowledging its presence, being open and candid about what I was doing and the purpose of my film. Although this is not seen in the film itself, the majority of this information was conveyed before those travelling with me entered the car. I think this acknowledges again the car as existing as a parallel none, or in between space in the lives of people; not directly acknowledging, but proving there is a world beyond it. Michael Rabiger (1987) suggests that those who are most comfortable on camera are those who possess little self-consciousness., In order to address the self-consciousness of my passengers I used my vantage point of being both object and medium to appease their self-consciousness by attempting to show little of my own. This proved to allow a naturalising of the camera presence for both me and the others on screen alongside me.

My initial inspiration, not specifically for this film but for the creation of a film at all came from ideas of Cinema Verite, particularly from Walter Benjamin’s (1938) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The idea that film has the ability to abstract the mundane from reality, to be viewed and subsequently understood in a different light gives purpose to an ethnographic endeavour in my eyes, flirting with the boundaries of anthropology and art in a way unique to Visual anthropology. It forms a different way of observing, to the traditional ethnographic style but still enveloped in its anthropological roots. Schoolscapes by David MacDougall (2007) is similarly aimed at a rejuvenation and detailed examination of forms of observational cinema, and focuses on recapturing a way of looking at the world. MacDougall is also both at once an object and medium of this film. Schoolscapes offers a way of looking at the ordinary in a new light. MacDougalls focus on the shoes and slippers outside the school, turns something mundane into something beautiful and extraordinary. I too have wished to isolate the mundane moments within the space of the car, in an attempt to isolate them from their reality to reveal their insights into our humanity.  Schoolscapes challenges the audience to rethink the way they look at reality, an inspiration for the way I hope to have examined the space of the car.

The process of making this Film has been a physically and emotionally draining one, I only hope that the final product has some integrity as an attempt at honest filmmaking.

 

 

 



 

Reference:

 

Malinowski,.B (1922) Argonauts of the western Pacific; an account of native enterprise and adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd: London.

 

Marc Auge’s (1992) Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Here Auge

 

Benjamin,.W (1938) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Schocken/Random House, ed. by Hannah Arendt;

 

Bourdieu, Pierre (1990). The Logic of Practice. Polity Press

 

Rabige,.M (1987) Directing the Documentary, Focal Press

 

MacDougal,. D (2007) Schoolscapes,

 

Grimshaw ,.A & Ravetz,.A (2009) Observational Cinema, Anthropology film and the exploration of Social life, Indiana University Press, Indiana.