Digital Exile Transnational Vernacular Video and Ethnographic Film Making
This thesis offers an ethnography, with both audiovisual and written components, of the virtual social space brought into being through the creation and consumption of event videos in a transnational community. It is intended as a contribution to the development of conceptual and methodological frameworks, which will allow anthropological engagements with vernacular audiovisual media that take into account their phenomenological properties as mimetically active assemblages.
In San Francisco Tetlanohcan, Mexico, young parents often leave their children behind as they cross the border illegally, heading north to look for work. Event videos, made by videographers at rite of passage ceremonies and sent to the USA, are an important aspect of migrant life. This research draws on thinking in philosophy and film studies to conceptualise these videos as agents in a process of ‘filmic emplacement’ as their production and consumption bring into being imagined places and selves.
The project combines methodological approaches borrowed from sensory ethnography with video editing techniques inspired by avant-garde filmmaking, in a dynamic evocation and exploration of this filmic space. Close participation in the creation and consumption of event videos combined with the movement of alternative ‘video messages’ across the border, gave the researcher a sense of this filmic space. Shared screenings of found footage sequences materialised and refined that understanding.
By co-opting the aesthetics of popular television, event videos transform that which they depict, bringing into being a collectively created and experienced imagined place. This coherent and constant virtual realm allows for the creation and maintenance of kinship and fictive kinship relationships, despite separations over space and time. The video 900,000 Frames Between Us produced as part of this thesis uses the juxtaposition of ontologically diverse images and sounds to provide an audiovisual evocation of this ‘filmic home’. In addition to contributing to the anthropological understanding of San Francisco, this thesis suggests ways in which visual anthropologists might engage with and understand the mediated experiences of others.