Árni Sverrisson, Professor, Department of Sociology, Stockholm University

From glass plates to documentary: Visual remediation of Sami lives

I will show part of a TV-documentary, A life worth living, which was made by a team including Ingrid Jonsson-Wallin, Lecturer in Film-editing (who was the project leader) and H. Totte Mattson, Professor of Music and me. The documentary narrates events from the lives of three Sami families at the beginning of the twentieth century, all of whom were engaged in small business ventures of various kinds. It is based on photographic archives, sound recordings, texts and short film cuts.

I will then discuss the making of the documentary, i.e. the construction of a shared but heterogenous object according to a range of conventions, both interpretative and others. This includes tracing image archives, getting access to them, collecting images, analyzing them and the making of a first rough. I will draw on well-known sociological theories of photographic image making and interpretation, such as Becker and Bourdieu, and discuss how the translation of archive material to documentary can be analyzed with the tools of mainstream sociology. I will also discuss the choice between constructing stories vs constructing explanations and other themes that guided the research and editing work, such as families and collectives, sequences and narratives, soundscapes and artifacts. In this I will also draw on authors with a more specialized interest, such as Chion, Latour, Edwards and Harper.

This is intended to lead to a conversation with the audience about vernacular photography (and the visual vernacular more generally) as a source of knowledge about society and about the visual practices of that society. Another interesting topic is the issues that arise when these knowledges are presented as a documentary, or as short film, or animations, or in other forms of moving image practices that are being re-invented during the general diffusion driven by digital technology. At a more general level, when images replace talk and text as the means of social interaction among ordinary people in ordinary situations, the relation between theory and empirical material in standard approaches may need some serious rethinking and I hope we have time to talk about that too.

All seminars in the series.

This is a joint seminar together with the Media cluster.