Recede in te ipsum (Know Thyself) tells a story of indecision about the future, the present, and about the film itself. The inspiration for the video came from a personal need, rather than from a material object, or a preexisting idea. It was sudden and unexpected. The cue that uncovered, and made me aware of the urge to tell others about my own experience with indecision, was one of the first activities done in class. A meditation exercise guided by my supervisor, Mike Poltorak. I clearly remember what it felt like being there, laying on the floor, looking at the ceiling light. My body was relaxed, and it felt heavy. I remember my whole weight being held by the floor: a thin layer between me and the rest. I was in a daze, looking at the tiny movements of the light; those little changes in colour that you can only see when you look straight into a source of light. Mike’s voice in my ear: “what do I want to tell with my film, what story do I need to tell with my video”. There I knew I wanted to use the film as a means to let go of the struggle of making a choice, my fear of not having anything that I see myself doing in the near future, my indecision.
The film captures a moment of self reflection. The video becomes almost a therapeutic means, which allows to take a step back, and to look at the causes of indecision from a different perspective. The narrative is simple, and it mostly follows the natural train of thoughts of a conversation with a friend: the camera. This conversation happens in a dark, isolated room, symbolising the self. The lack of any details allows the audience to focus on what is being said, and to become part of the scene itself. Although the video presents only reflections in Italian, I decided not to write a script, nor to set a main language, but to speak my thought as they came to my mind, either in English or in Italian. This decision came from the desire to express myself freely, and honestly. The switch from to-camera interviews to other scenes provides a physical and conceptual representation to some of the concerns emerging from the reflection. These scenes have laptops as a common element, symbolizing choices, opportunities, and decisions. Having a single laptop in the indoor scene, and several in the outdoor ones was a deliberated choice, representing the infinite amount of opportunities that can be found once you broad your perspectives.
When thinking back to the making process as a whole, I see myself in what MacDougall said when talking about Photo Wallahs; “making the film was a process of [continuous] enquiry and discovery” (1992, p.98), which, in my case, eventually resulted in several changes of methods and tactics during shooting. The film is based on the technique of auto-ethnography. It presents a mixture of video diaries, which I recorded being alone with the camera; and performed scenes, of metaphorical and symbolic nature. This final outlook reveals a journey of experimentation and compromises with myself, with my collaborators, and the video itself.
My first approach to the video, in fact, came out of my previous experience with still photography. Being that the only way to hold and move a camera I knew, I tried to apply a methodology I was familiar with, to build the structure of the video. Coming up with a fairly complete image of the final product, preparing the setting, and clicking the shutter button. Where this process worked for a couple of frames, it was extremely inefficient when I came across the issue of narrative. Building a cohesive storyline with moving images represented one of the biggest challenges throughout the making of the film. I had ideas; I love them; I questioned them; I discarded them and found new ones, just to start this whole cycle again.
My original idea was to use the film to explore indecision through the experience of a group of people, offering both the perspective of the young, and that of the older generations. Their experiences would have been recorded both via to-camera interviews, and participant observation, giving the subjects complete freedom on what to talk about, and, most importantly where. However, as I looked for my imagined subjects, I became more and more aware of the fact that I was looking for was someone to tell the story the way I wanted. Once I recognised the subjectivity that was leading my research, I decided not to avoid it, but, rather, to turn my video into an auto-ethnography, and, therefore, to embrace completely a viewpoint that in the academic context, I would otherwise discarded as “unhelpfully subjective” (Turner, 2013, p. 225).
Why video diary?
A second, major problem encountered during the shooting of the first interviews was the influence of the medium on the ability to express a message (Mayers, 1988). The pressure coming from people’s awareness of being recorded, in fact, played a significant role in influencing their performance, as the camera became a “surveillant outsider” (Pini, 2005) imposing formality. Taking this into consideration, the idea of turning the film into an auto-ethnography, and to use the technique of video diary, arose from the need of a less invasive method of collecting material. This allowed the video to assume a confessional character, and to promise a site of veracity and authenticity (Holliday, 2004). The visual dimension of the diary also enabled a certain degree of freedom in expressing and capturing a performance of identity. According to Russell (1999), this is an inevitable aspect of auto-ethnographies, which produce a representation of the self as performance. I gladly took advantage of this “staging of subjectivity”, which allowed me to find a space to include more photographic and metaphoric elements to the video.
Making this video was a practical, creative, and emotional challenge, especially during the editing process, when, as Young (1975) pointed out, the pressure of making footages into a movie builds up. It has allowed me to explore new ways of working with a camera, and has made me question previous assumption, both about my, and others’ performance when placed behind, or in front of a lens. I believe auto-ethnography was the perfect choice to develop a theme that arose from a personal need, an provided the means to produce a subjective space to combine “anthropologist and informant, subject and object of the gaze under one sign” (Russell, 1999) in fascinating ways.
Holliday, R. (2004). Filming “The Closet”: The Role of Video Diaries in Researching Sexualities. American Behavioural Scientist. 47(12): 1597-1616.
MacDougall, D. (1992). “Photo Wallahs”: An Encounter with Photography. Visual Anthropology Review. 8(2): 96-100.
Myers, F.R. (1988). From Ethnography to Metaphor: Recent Films from David and Judith MacDougall. Cultural Anthropology. 3(2): 205-220.
Pini, M. (2005). ‘Girls on Film: Video Diaries as “Auto-ethnographies”’. Conference paper. Fourth European Feminist Research Conference. Bologna, September. [Available at: http://archeologia.women.it/user/cyberarchive/files/pini.htm].
Russell, C. (1999). Autoethnography: Journeys of the Self. In: Russel, C. (ed.). Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video. Duke University Press.
Turner, (2013). The Evocative Autoethnographic I: The Relational Ethics of Writing about Oneself. In: Short, N.P., Turner, L., and Grant L. (eds.). Contemporary British Autoethnography. Sense Publishes: Rotterdam. Ch. 14.
Young, C. (1975). Observational Cinema. In: Hockings, P. (ed.). Principles of Visual Anthropology. Mouton. pp. 65-67.