Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series:Beyond the Boundaries of Image and Text: Telling Difficult Stories.
Friday, March 24th, 2017
10:00 AM to 11:30 AM
This talk presents an overview of explorations around a central problematic; that is, challenges encountered by photojournalists and documentary filmmakers in trying to represent experiences of war, conflict and trauma, and the innovative forms utilized to deal with challenges of visualization.
Beginning with her Ph.D. dissertation, the speaker, Professor Debra Pentacost, Chair of VIU’s Media Studies Department, sought to explore the powers and limitations of war photojournalism to capture and convey in still image form the many experiences of living in war zones. Since then her work has centred upon creative and innovative approaches to inherent limitations of the still and moving image, of written text, and spoken language. Attention will be given to works that highlight the struggle of photojournalists to represent lived experience within the confines of the still image. The talk profiles several works that aim to convey more thorough understandings of their visual stories.
Highlighted is the work of Susan Meiselas, and her book Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, wherein Meiselas draws from a multitude of sources, including the words and images of missionaries, anthropologists, military personnel, Kurdish photographers, newspaper stories, and her own photojournalistic work, to provide a more textured portrait of the history of the Kurdish people, one that visual imagery alone would be strained to convey. In telling difficult stories, photojournalists and documentary filmmakers face three challenges. The first revolves around experiences difficult to represent, experiences thought to reside beyond the realms of representation, particularly in terms of renderings of extraordinary trauma.
Pentecost will highlight recent innovative documentary forms, including the animated documentary, Waltz with Bashir, by Israeli filmmaker, Ari Folman. A second challenge involves ethical boundaries and content considered difficult to represent due to its disturbing nature. The work of Cambodian filmmaker, Rithy Panh, is profiled, with much of his filmic work focusing on the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge. Thirdly, there are challenges involved in giving visual expression to that which has been actively suppressed, often through political acts of erasure. Panh’s film The Missing Picture will be discussed, particularly for his innovative use of carved clay figurines set in elaborate tableaux to evoke visual expression of time and experiences that are of no more.