Saturday, February 2, 2008

Can you do visual anthropology with your cell phone?

The simple answer, yes, why not? Use what you have. A cell phone is certainly convenient - when you have it with you (which is always, right?) you have a digital camera and video camera at your disposal. The quality might not be the best, but there are tricks one can learn to be a better photographer with a cell phone.

We can certainly access more and more on our cell phone via the internet. There are special cell phone productions to fit on the small screen. Or perhaps we should say the "smaller screen" to differentiate it from the small screen (television) and the big screen (movies). Anyway, there are people making films and videos with cell phones. For example, there is a class at Boston University that teaches cell phone techniques. Read the story by clicking below:

Students Produce Movies With Cell Phones

There is even an international film festival for cell phones (and other smaller screen technologies).



The 4th edition of the Pocket Films Festival will take place at the Pompidou Center, Paris, on June, 13-14-15th 2008.

The 2008 registration forms for the Pocket Films Festival are online.

Pocket Films initiates this year a new section, open to every moving images developed for « Mobile Screen », such as mobile phones, I-Pod, portable screens... Pocket Films also sends an international call for audiovisual projects using mobile technologies.

More information can be found at their web site below:
International Festival of films made with Mobile Phone

The Third Annual Pocket Film festival was in Japan last year. A nice summary of the aims, scope and possibilities of cell phone films was included in the Introduction to their web site:

The Pocket Films Festival explores the potential for audio-visual expression that lies hidden in a “practical high-tech toy,” and through various media, aims to construct an ideal method of communication that excites our sensibilities – something not yet obvious even to artists.

The young French filmmaker Jean-Charles Fitoussi in a lecture last year at the Graduate School of Film and New Media of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music explained how he has embraced mobile films from his background of traditional filmmaking and his motive for shooting a mobile film of more than one hour long.

“One day I was out driving and I noticed the shadow cast by a group of clouds which were passing across a field, and I thought to myself I just have to film that, but unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me. Even if I’d rushed off to get hold of a camera, that particular scene would no longer exist. Because you’ve always got a mobile telephone on you, you never need to miss that perfect shot.” How can we even more effectively use the infinite freedom and creative potential of a camera that we have with us all the time? This film festival is the forum for asking that question.

Japan's first attempt at the Pocket Films Festival is based on a partnership between the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and the Forum des images of Paris which has staged numerous audio-visual events including special feature screenings of as many as 1,000 films a year, in addition to organizing the Pocket Films Festival since 2005. Although we are inheriting from them the “esprit” of Paris, the center of the film world, and the format of a film festival where films shot with a mobile phone are screened as works of art, we are also keen to develop a set of plans for our festival that are unique to Japan.

For more information on the Japanese festival, click below:
Pocket Films festival in Japan

Margaret Mead, in her "Visual Anthropology in a Discipline of Words" (1975, reproduced in Principles of Visual Anthropology edited by Paul Hockings, 1995) contends that their are better ways than words to record culture. In her time, cameras were bulky and expensive.

It is claimed that the cost of film equipment, processing, and analysis, in both time and money, are prohibitive. But as every science has developed instrumentation, it has required more expensive equipment. Astronomers did not give up astronomy because better telescopes were developed... (p.6).

We don't have to worry about such cost issues with cell phones. And the quality of cell phone cameras continues to improve. Of course in the ideal world we all have the best and most expensive equipment at our disposal. But we should not let not having access to such technology prohibit us from doing visual anthropology (or taking the Visual Anthropology of Japan class). Sometimes a large, high-quality camera could be prohibitive during fieldwork. A cell phone and basic editing equipment can record and produce a satisfactory film. So go for it! And if you are really good, enter the film festival.

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