Can Film Show the Invisible? The Work of Montage in Ethnographic Filmmaking

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This article suggests that film can evoke hidden dimensions of ethnographic reality, not by striving for ever more realistic depictions – a position often associated with observational cinema – but rather by exploiting the artificial means through which human vision can be transcended. Achieved particularly through the use of montage, such disruptions can multiply the perspectives from which filmic subject matter is perceived, thus conveying its invisible and irreducible otherness. This, however, is an argument not for dismissing the realism of much ethnographic filmmaking, but rather to demonstrate how montage can and must be used to break with the mimetic dogma of the ‘humanized’ camera. The effective image, we argue, depends crucially on maintaining a tension between a strong sense of reality and its occasional, and therefore only then effective, disruption through montage.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012

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