Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Three-Frame Story: Angela at the Thirsty Pagan

We have all heard the expression that a picture is worth a thousand words, or variations on that theme - and of course that is the very premise and challenge of visual anthropology.  Contrary to some beliefs, visual anthropology doesn't negate the word, whether it be in text, sound or signed form. Rather imagery serves as a complement to the word and vice versa. Words alone are limiting, images alone are also limiting. Since the time in my participation in the  2009 Visual Literacy workshop at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication, I have been experimenting with the "two-frame story" as introduced by Jack Condon and Miguel Gandert. The idea is to limit yourself to two photos and about 200 words of text or so and still be able to tell some story. I probably have failed at every attempt to do such a thing. It has also been challenging for my students to accomplish such a project in Japan. There are always so many things to photograph and show, and there are always so many words and references to supply the needed context. It is enough for a visual anthropologist to give up on photography completely and work on ethnographic documentaries.

I am reminded of the incredible work of Annie Leibovitz that we studied this semester in class. She was and is able to convey so much in a single photo whether it be using ethnographic type methodologies as she did in her early work or setting up extravagant settings and scenarios as she does in her later work. So I won't give up and instead will attempt a new approach: the three-frame story.

This story, not Japan related by the way, goes back to this summer when I was visiting family in Superior, Wisconsin, U.S.A. My cousins and I after a long day trip went to a local brewing company/bar, the Thirsty Pagan, for some pizza and micro-brew beer. There was also a live show that evening, the first set featuring a young female singer/guitarist, Angela Brannan, backed up by a drummer and stand-up bass player. The food, the drink, the company, the music - it was one of the highlights of my America trip. After the first set the crowd began to thin out as did the accompanying musicians. It seems the big party that night was across the bridge in Duluth, Minnesota where the NorShor Theatre Centennial Celebration was going on. During the break I met Angela and the band, bought her CD and got their autographs. I also asked permission to take photographs during her second set. She performed solo for the second set, providing an intimate, almost private, show for the few of us who stayed. Angela is a great musician and the Superior/Duluth music scene seems to be thriving.

I gave Angela my card and she contacted me a few weeks after I returned to Japan. I sent her several photos and asked her permission to do this post. Reading this post now I think my words are failing to capture the mood and feelings of Angela's music and show. What is a visual anthropologist to do?

Please check out her web site (and you can hear a sample of her music):

Link to Thirsty Pagan Brewing (check out the beer and music schedule):

By coincidence (?), Angela is playing at the Thirsty Pagan again tonight...

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