“Mararet Mead and Gregory Bateson in Bali: Their Use of Photography and Film”

May 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Mead and Bateson were two anthropologists who modernized ethnographic research, by the use of film and photography.  Mead did this by changing the camera angle to an observer’s approach by using a medium to long length angle. Bateson took another approach and would annotate every picture with great detail. This system helped researches record detail. Also this allowed the margin of error to decrease and make the photographs appear to be more accurate.

Each researcher presented a new way to use these types of recording devices to gather information in an ethnographic research. The use of these films and still shots portray what a society is like day to day. Yet in this there is still a part up to the viewer. If you take a photo of a grimace on a child’s face as doubt or fear or even comfort, it all is up to the viewer to decide what are the meanings. ” Consequently the book of still photographs was not fully representative of their observations. (Bateson and Mead)” Photography is essential in recording actual events, even if it can be inaccurate in its interpretation.

The reason for choosing Bali was due to the, “Balinese appeared to have a very institutionalized dissociative and trancelike behavior, which in our culture is regarded as schizophrenic.” (Ira Jacknis) They key to this research was the children and their trance like behaviors. By focusing on young children they also obtained a part of research they did not mean to. Many of times the mother or father would be captured too in this research and are studied also. The main reason for studying the children so closely was to see the development into adulthood. This would allow the anthropologist reading this ethnography to get an inside view into how their culture was like and allow them to make assumptions on cultural behaviors.

Primarily Mead and Bateson took how they used photography and film to present a profile of the Balinese that could be interpreted in how they were taken. They used many techniques to get these views. Mead was known for using a distance lens and trying to get the natural element but in doing this she was selecting a certain portrait of their life to show. Almost a back seat approach was used and not using the front lines of the field study.

Each researcher was meticulous, not just taking the picture, but giving excellent detail on its meaning. Each time that they would take a photo they would document the photo as if it were spontaneous or if it was a scripted shot. Later on these notes would help progress the use of photography in field use, by showing the raw material versus the staged ones. Allowing the work they were doing to be the most accurate of this time.


§ One Response to “Mararet Mead and Gregory Bateson in Bali: Their Use of Photography and Film”

  • ethnolust says:

    Although photography certainly has its place in social science and in anthropology, remember that Mead–as she states in this transcription–does not appear to be in favor of the camera’s use in social science. She believes that there are some things that it can do very well (it can make you believe). However, she ultimately says that the camera prevents the ethnographer from seeing.

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You are currently reading “Mararet Mead and Gregory Bateson in Bali: Their Use of Photography and Film” at CA94: A Cultural Crash Course.


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