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Paul Henley

The half-century running from the mid-1890s, when moving image camera technology was first developed, to the period of the Second World War in the 1940s constitutes over a third of the total time-span of ethnographic film-making. This was a period of tentative beginnings, sporadic activity and blurred genres. Though a large number of films made during this period could be said to possess a certain degree of ‘ethnographicness’ – as defined in the General Introduction to this book – many of these were not produced by academic film-makers, but by

in Beyond observation
Paul Henley

The ‘less-than-happy marriage’: the academic reception of television ethnography For a period of some twenty-five years, from the late 1960s until the mid-1990s, the television patronage of ethnographic film-making served to give academic anthropology a public profile in Britain that it had not previously enjoyed and, arguably, has not enjoyed since. Although little more than anecdotal, there is some evidence to support the view that during this period the presentation of the work of anthropologists on television served to

in Beyond observation
Paul Henley

The origins of ethnographic film sponsorship by British television Prior to its sponsorship by television, ethnographic film-making in Britain was almost non-existent. Since the pioneering work of Haddon and Spencer at the turn of the twentieth century, the number of British anthropologists who had taken moving image cameras with them to the field had been very few, and even those that had done so, had generally used them not to make documentaries as such, but rather for documentation purposes. Facilities and support for

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
A history of authorship in ethnographic film
Author: Paul Henley

Beyond Observation offers a historical analysis of ethnographic film from the birth of cinema in 1895 until 2015. It covers a large number of films made in a broad range of styles, in many different parts of the world, from the Arctic to Africa, from urban China to rural Vermont. It is the first extensive historical account of its kind and will be accessible to students and lecturers in visual anthropology as well as to those previously unfamiliar with ethnographic film.

Among the early genres that Paul Henley discusses are French reportage films, the Soviet kulturfilm, the US travelogue, the classic documentaries of Robert Flaherty and Basil Wright, as well as the more academic films of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. Among the leading film-makers of the post-war period, he discusses Jean Rouch, John Marshall and Robert Gardner, as well as the emergence of Observational Cinema in the 1970s. He also considers ‘indigenous media’ projects of the 1980s, and the ethnographic films that flourished on British television until the 1990s.

In the final part, he examines the recent films of David and Judith MacDougall, the Harvard Sensory Media Lab, and a range of films authored in a participatory manner, as possible models for the future.

Open Access (free)
Authorship, praxis, observation, ethnography
Paul Henley

This book offers a historical account of a genre of cinema that combines two distinct practices: the craft of non-fiction film-making, and ethnography, a particular approach to carrying out and representing social research. It is an account that straddles a period of approximately 120 years, from the middle of last decade of the nineteenth century, when the moving image camera was a primitive instrument that was troublesome and expensive to use, and which was therefore reserved to professional elites, mostly in the global North, to the middle

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
Paul Henley

Ethnographic film-making, broadly defined, has been supported by television companies in many different countries around the world since as far back as the 1950s. However, in most cases, this support has been intermittent and contingent: the occasional series, an evening of special programming, the one-off major documentary feature. In Britain, by contrast, for a period of around twenty-five years, from the late 1960s until the mid-1990s, the national television network provided sustained and materially very substantial support for

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
Paul Henley

In this last part of the book, over the course of three chapters, I consider a number of recent examples of English-language ethnographic film-making. These films have mostly been produced in the first decade and a half of the twenty-first century, though I also discuss a number of films produced in the last decade of the twentieth. As with the whole of the book, it is a partial selection, in both senses of the term. That is, I make no claim that it is either a representative or a comprehensive sample of the English-language ethnographic films

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
Paul Henley

Throughout most of the twentieth century, ethnographic film-makers, particularly those in the English-speaking world associated with academic institutions, were ill at ease with the idea of authoring their films. From the 1890s, when anthropologists first started to take moving image cameras with them to the field, until as late as the 1970s, cameras were considered primarily to be scientific instruments that in the ideal case would allow researchers to bring back objective visual records of certain aspects of their fieldwork. Any exercise of

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
Paul Henley

I suggest that a similar argument can be made with regard to the three key ethnographic film authors whose praxes I consider in this part of the book – Jean Rouch, Robert Gardner and Colin Young. In each case, they were responsible for establishing a particular ethnographic film-making praxis that other film-makers have since followed, though rarely so systematically that any clearly defined ‘schools’ have emerged. In Rouch's case, as his producer Pierre Braunberger once said of him, he had no direct predecessors, nor any direct successors, but

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
The principles of Observational Cinema
Paul Henley

The third Author whose contribution to the praxis of ethnographic film-making we consider in this part of the book is very different from the other two. Colin Young was both the original intellectual architect and also the initial practical enabler of the approach to ethnographic film-making known as Observational Cinema, which since the 1970s has been one of the most influential in the English-speaking world. However, although he may have shot some ethnographic footage now and again, he has not been a practitioner in the active sense of Jean

in Beyond observation