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Shimmering Screens: Making Media in an Aboriginal Community

Jennifer Deger
Volume: 19
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 256
  • Book Info
    Shimmering Screens
    Book Description:

    A rich ethnographic study, Shimmering Screens examines the productive, and sometimes problematic, conjunctions of technology, culture, and imagination in contemporary Yolngu life. Jennifer Deger offers a new perspective to ongoing debates regarding “media imperialism.” Reconsidering assumptions about the links between representation, power, and “the gaze,” she proposes the possibility of a more mutual relationship between subject, image, and viewer.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9901-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    Ethnography-writing, becoming-anthropologist, I hang my favorite photograph from fieldwork above my desk.

    This is no shot of clay-smeared ceremonial dancers, although I have plenty of them. There is other cultural work going on here. The photo is one of a series of portraits taken as a memento of a trip to Darwin in 1997. In a professional photographic studio in front of an ugly, dappled, colored backdrop, my main informant Bangana and his family posed for the camera. This photo is the final one of several configurations of family reproduced that day, including the couple shot, the nuclear family of...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. xix-xxxvi)

    This is a book about media, technology, perception, imagination, and culture(s). It describes the ways in which Aboriginal people in Gapuwiyak, a small settlement in the sparsely populated tropical north of Australia, are taking advantage of the increasing prevalence of media technologies—from privately owned still cameras, audio recorders, video cameras, and VCRs, to small-scale government-funded local radio and television facilities—to explore issues of identity, community, and belonging.¹

    The ethnography investigates how these technologies are contributing to the emergence of new kinds of practices and new forms of cultural production, which are, in turn, stimulating a growing reflexivity among...

  6. 1 Culture and Complicities: An Indigenous Media Research Project
    (pp. 1-33)

    All fieldwork, I suspect, hinges on chance encounters that profoundly determine the course of research. However, perhaps more than most anthropological projects, the data and culture considered in this ethnography are the result of the enthusiasms, reflexivity, and vision of one very particular person. Had I not met and worked with Bangana Wunungmurra, the Yolngu man who became my chief informant, my Aboriginal brother, co-producer, and, in a Balanda (non-Aboriginal) sense, friend, this would have been a very different work.

    This chapter traces the entangled imperatives of theory and methodology, research and analysis. It tells the story of how my...

  7. 2 (In)Visible Difference: Framing Questions of Culture, Media, and Technology
    (pp. 34-59)

    In this book, I give analytic priority to the ways Yolngu use and talk about media technologies—photography, audio recording, radio, video, and television. In a broad sense, this ethnography advances an indigenous theory of culture, media, and modernity in northeast Arnhem Land. More properly and precisely, this work is my account of an indigenous media project as I came to conceptualize it. As such, I work the spaces between fieldwork and data analysis, Western theory and Yolngu conceptualizations, my eyes and Yolngu descriptions in order to discuss something that has come to be known both by its producers and...

  8. 3 Tuning In: Mediated Imaginaries and Problems of Deafness and Forgetting
    (pp. 60-82)

    Surrounded by stacks of CDs, his headphones cranked up to full volume, Gambali enjoys himself. Leaning back in his chair, he plays air guitar along with Mark Knopfler. “Sultans of Swing,” he’s told me often, is a favorite song from his time at the Aboriginal boarding college on the outskirts of the mining town of Nhulunbuy. This song was played incessantly during a period of my own adolescence, and so, listening together, we’re both reminded of high school and good times. At the end of the track, he fades up, in a smooth transition, to a Yolngu clanmanikay(song)...

  9. 4 On the ʺMimetic Facultyʺ and the Refractions of Culture
    (pp. 83-91)

    In this chapter I take time out from my ethnographic narrative to establish what I mean by mimesis—the complex, elusive, and multivalent concept that propels my analysis.

    The mimetic imperatives that I encountered in Gapuwiyak have a cultural particularity that is crucial and defining. Consequently, rather than simply applying the ideas of Walter Benjamin and Michael Taussig—two seminal theorists of what has been called an “anthropological mimesis” (Gebauer and Wulf 1995, 269)—I take up their work and add my own emphasis. This enables me to develop and extend a sense of mimesis and its effects appropriate to...

  10. 5 Taking Pictures: Media Technologies and a Yolngu Politics of Presencing
    (pp. 92-116)

    Taking photographs or shooting video often produces conflict and misunderstanding in remote Aboriginal communities. Despite requirements that film crews and photographers consult with local representatives before gaining permission to film, the enforcement of restrictions regarding the photography of sacred objects or sites, and an increasing willingness on the part of most Balanda to respect Yolngu cultural policies in regard to such matters, tensions may still arise. Underlying these conflicts—which, as I will describe, may often go unrecognized by the crews themselves—are very different assumptions about the efficacies of the camera and the imagery produced.¹

    In this chapter I...

  11. 6 Flowers and Photographs: Death, Memory, and Techno Mimetics
    (pp. 117-137)

    Fieldwork can be overwhelming. So, too, can its aftermath (although this is far less talked about). Back home in Sydney, it took many months of frustration and false starts for me to learn an essential lesson: writing is a process of omission. Only by leaving things out can one clear a space in which to unravel and then follow a strand of thought, to wherever it might lead.

    In the previous chapter, as I sought to explore Shirley’s perspective on mimetic technologies, I chose to ignore some obvious and insistent questions that threatened to impede the flow of my argument....

  12. 7 Technology, Techne, and Yolngu Videomaking
    (pp. 138-155)

    I now wish to return to my original thematic focus, indigenous media production, with an extended analysis of the first—and now, tragically, the only—Yolngu video project directed by Bangana.

    In 1997, with the assistance of an indigenous television production company from central Australia, Bangana and I completed a major video project entitledGularri: That Brings Unity. The video tells the story of Gularri, the sacred fresh waters that flow through the waterholes, rivers, and seas of Yirritja clan countries across northeast Arnhem Land. Infused with Ancestral potency, replete with layers of story and significances, Gularri, and the sacred...

  13. 8 Shimmering Verisimilitudes: Making Video, Managing Images, Manifesting Truths
    (pp. 156-184)

    It was mid-1995, in the early days of our collaboration, when Bangana first raised the prospect of making a video for broadcast through the BRACS. Up until that time local videomaking had been limited to the recording of significant community events such as the public ceremonies ofdhapi(male circumcision rituals), the local football grand final, and, most popular of all, the visit of celebrity television gardener Don Burke.¹

    Unlike these other recordings,Gularriwas specifically planned and produced as a “Cultural video.” Ambitious in scope and subject matter, it involved many months of consultation, ten days of filming in...

  14. 9 Worlding a Yolngu World: Radiant Visions and the Flash of Recognition
    (pp. 185-214)

    During the months of preproduction and weeks of filming and editingGularri, I had eagerly anticipated the data that the video would provide. I expected it, needed it, in fact, not only to provide a foundation for my ethnography but to give me something to show my supervisors back at university as some kind of justification for my unusually lengthy stay in the field.

    During the course of the shoot itself, consumed by the practicalities of production and the logistics of filming in locations accessible only by chartered helicopters and planes or borrowed boats and four-wheel drives, I had not...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 215-226)

    If there is one overarching argument in this book, it is this: Yolngu use media to (re)produce relationships. In Yolngu hands, photographs, audio recordings, video, and radio generate mimetic ripples that reach beyond “everyday” time and space, amplifying an invisible yet sensuously encompassing intersubjective field of unity.

    As I have described, by facilitating the kinds of experiences and understandings more usually expressed through art and ritual, the expressive power of the audio and visual media is giving rise to new forms of cultural practice in Gapuwiyak. Although these technologies can often raise serious concerns regarding the manifestation and management of...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 227-246)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 247-248)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-258)
  19. Index
    (pp. 259-267)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 268-268)