Author: Dr. Natasha Fijn, based at the ANU Mongolia Institute. Her research focuses on multispecies ethnography and observational filmmaking.
Ethnographic film and photography includes detailed observations of events as they unfold in the field. In alignment with the filmic approaches of David MacDougall and the earlier work of Jean Rouch, we are interested in the basis of ethnographic audio-visual material: the wide-angle, hand-held, long shot.
The Familiar Strange, with help from series editor Dr. Natasha Fijn, invites contributors to submit a single still image or a single video shot, accompanied by a summary with a reflexive emphasis on the researcher’s own experience in the field (150-300 words). The video segment should be three minutes or less. It’s our hope that the format — short-form, multi-media, digitally-native — will offer a complementary space for visual anthropologists to share their work, and spark debate on the uses of images and image-making in ethnography.
Please send Vimeo or YouTube video links, the digital still image, and your description to email@example.com.
A Herder’s Arrival
A Mongolian Herders’ Arrival from Natasha Fijn on Vimeo.
The featured clip is a single shot of a Mongolian herder approaching an encampment across the grassland steppe. The Mongolian herding community often relies on knowledgeable herders to carry out specialist tasks, such as the ancient Mongolian medical practice of bloodletting. This observational shot is part of a larger sequence where the herder has been summoned to carry out bloodletting on a tired horse, before departing again across the wide expansive steppe.
While filming the scene, I thought the herder’s approach out of nowhere was reminiscent of a classic sequence from Laurence of Arabia (1962). A Bedouin stranger, played by Omar Sharif, gradually emerges on a camel out of a mirage in the desert. Instead of director David Lean cutting the stranger’s approach shorter in the film edit, he builds tension through the two protagonists at the well observing as the stranger gradually draws nearer in real time, before dramatic action ensues.
Image: a still capture from Natasha’s film clip.