Wednesday, September 12, 2007
People Watching and New Student Blog Watching
We are well into the second week of classes in the new fall semester and my visual students are starting their blogs. This semester is a little different from the past. In the past students did a research project and then posted their visual results on their blog. Unfortunately, many seemed to do their postings (and research?) at the last minute, which resulted in less than the level of ethnographic quality I was hoping for. I accept responsibility, of course, for expecting students to do a semester-long visual ethnography on top of their language courses and other classes and activities.
This semester I am asking students to keep a photo-journal. They are required to post at least two original photos and some descriptive text every week. How will their impressions of Japanese culture and their camera work change throughout the semester? How will they be able to incorporate class readings into their work? Some students have no experience with blogging and some are a little confused as to what they are supposed to photograph. Is Go out and take photos of Japanese culture! too vague? Anyway, many of the early postings are very nice and I see a lot of potential for excellent blogs.
Scroll down until you see the "Fall 2007 Student Photo-Journal Blogs" section. Please check out their blogs and leave comments. I am hoping this new assignment will be more successful for open-text, collaboration, communication and of course good anthropology.
The photos in this posting were taken with my new Sanyo HD2 Xacti Video and Digital Zoom camera. It has a very different feel to it - almost like a handgun rather than a camera. So I need to get accustomed to it. I have it with me almost all of the time so when I find myself with free time I practice with this new gadget. I like the quality photos and video it takes - and it works very well my my MacBook Pro and iMovie HD software. Being able to switch quickly between still digital photos and video with a flick of the thumb is convenient. Close-up shots are a little tricky with this camera - I find that I have to physically back up and away from my subject more than with other cameras I have used in the past. The other challenge is that the only language of the camera is Japanese, so it is taking me a little longer to learn some of the more advanced features. I have yet to figure out how to make it stop talking to me...
I have also been practicing my people watching. Most of the shots in this posting were taken in Kyoto. I sat by the river and took my camera out and started snapping away. People were hanging out by the river with a significant other, gathering in groups before going out to eat and drink, and listening to street musicians. In previous posts I've expressed my concerns about taking photos of people in public. Even though my use is academic and not-for-profit, I feel a little funny taking and using pictures of people without asking permission. As an anthropologist I feel ethical responsibilities to protect the privacy of the people I study. What if I take and post a photo of someone, albeit in public, but being in a place where they are not supposed to be? Am I being too sensitive? Many of my students have told me so.
Photojournalists seem to be able to take photos in public without asking permission as long as the people in the shots remain anonymous. My father was a photojournalist, but he always had people sign a consent form - better safe than sorry. Ideally I want to ask permission as well. But there are some times when that is not possible. So what to do?
In these shots I practiced trying to get pictures of people without them being easily recognized. A lot of back and side shots. Does this work? Is this ethical?
Is the shinkansen ("bullet train") public space? Is it OK to shoot and use when people are oblivious and/or asleep?
The stereotypical salayman on the bullet train: exhausted and sleeping. Note his required paraphernalia: beer, newspaper, briefcase with laptop computer inside, bag of omiyage (souvenir/presents)...
A homeless man tries to sleep along the bank (and his home?) of the Kamogawa River in Kyoto. Above him was the busy hustle and bustle of an early Saturday evening on the bridge in Sanjo. Not far away other people sat by the river, talked, laughed and seemed oblivious to him. He seemed to ignore them as well, especially when he got up to urinate in the river.
This posting is probably a poor example for students to emulate. What am I trying to show in these photos? How do these photos illustrate Japanese culture? Well... they are Japanese people (most of them anyway)... doing Japanese things (I suppose) in Japan. We can note clothing and hair styles, body language and behavior. I can appreciate the difficulty of my students' assignment. I wish them well in their photo-journals. And I hope we can all learn to be better visual anthropologist together.
As always, any comments, feedback or advice is appreciated.