A film by Howard Walmsley.
Completed as part of the MPhil in Ethnographic Documentary at the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology, University of Manchester.
This film explores how participants respond to being photographed, how they comport for the camera, how they see themselves and how they express ideas of being seen.
The setting is a reconstruction of the grid system used in early anthropometric photography, which has been described by Elizabeth Edwards as: ‘the most overtly oppressive of photographic practices’.
Anthropometry is the term used to describe the anthropological sub-discipline of the measurement of human anatomical difference. These images, which have come to represent the intersection of anthropology and photography, were generated in the 19c as part of a colonial exercise in the classification of peoples of the world. In addition to measurements taken using callipers and weighing machines, photography was seen as an essential adjunct to this sub-discipline, which coincided with the with emergent European interest in images of the ‘exotic other’.
The photographs, originally intended as a means of classification and scientific scrutiny, were largely concerned with exterior appearance and negated the narrative considerations of those depicted.
Savages seeks to ‘rehumanise’ the process by recreating a scientific environment of objectification, and inviting into it willing participants who provide testimonies describing their experience and offering insight into their complex interior lifeworlds.
The subjects were invited to stand or sit in front of the camera, while a continuous three-minute shot was recorded. They were free to do whatever they wished during that time. After each three minute ‘take’ the participants were given the opportunity to feed back their experience and describe whatever thoughts emerged during the process.
This setting removes all quotidian context and reveals nothing but the body of the subject, figures in space, their exterior poise and behaviour during the three-minute recording. The intimate disclosures of temporal awareness, self consciousness, identity and memory conveyed in the soundtrack are thus revealed in greater contrast and bring us closer to a deeper understanding of the human condition.