A Visual Research at a Shelter for the Dying in Kolkata (an Online Gallery) By Egor Novikov

The sketches, photographs and field notes collected in this online gallery were made in April 2016 during an anthropological fieldwork at Kalighat Home for the Dying Destitutes. The shelter is founded by Mother Teresa and run by her monastic order Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata (Calcutta)*. My research was focused on the life changing experience of the western volunteers working with the bare life of the marginalized Indians. I found this experience being tightly bound to corporeal phenomena: physical contact, monstrous images of suffering and transgression of spatial borders. Hence, the visual methods were irreplaceable while working with these hard-to-describe matters as well as for the consequent presentation of the research outcomes.

A few years ago the nuns of the order introduced a ban on photographs in the Home on the pretext of protecting human dignity. As one of the signs on the wall explains it: “…our patients are not animals”. While carrying out participant observation in the premises of the shelter as a volunteer, I had to go back to the old anthropological method of sketching inhabitants of the shelter and their daily life taking advantage of every break in service. The method came out being effective in many – often unexpected – ways. The work on the sketches gave me a reason to stay for a longer period focused in one direction, which usually doesn’t happen: the volunteers mainly spend their working time in constant movement. Thus I could pay attention to details and witness the slow pace of the patients’ life and their interactions.

Besides various side effects such as closer relations with nuns and other volunteers and involving them into my research the sketches provided me with a much more profound access to the values and the mental conditions of the disempowered patients of the Home. Brought to the shelter at the verge of death from streets of Kolkata they are predominantly silent and passive, subjected to the totality of religious charitable service of the sisters. In spite of multiple symbolical and structural borders which separated me (a western socially acknowledged volunteer) from them (nameless inhabitants of a human dumpster of Global South), we could establish a certain personal contact where sketching functioned as a universal mediator delivering multiple unclear but powerful messages through the linguistic, cultural and symbolic borders.

Clearly, when looking closely at the patients of the Home, processing the visual perceptions through my body and imprinting their images on paper, I functioned as a politically active subject objectifying their stripped bare life into a social product. Apparently, for these forsaken inhabitants of social bottom such recognition from a western stranger who embodied their image in an intimate act of representation often was an important experience. At some cases upon seeing their portraits usually apathetic people came out of their desperate indifference and showed strong emotions so irregular in their condition seeming almost frightening. Some of them found it important to write their names on the sketches. For instance, in one case a patient revealed his name for the first time since he got to the shelter asking to sign the portrait. Another one was asking me to let him see all the sketches whenever he saw me passing by with the journal in my hand, though I don’t know for certain what was that he found there for himself. Meanwhile, that might be another value of these brief visual reflections: they are tangible pieces of the field experience which bear imprints of various actors. They are points of attention where anxious gazes of the patients, the nuns and the volunteers cross, where all of them find essential meanings of their own.

A couple of words about the technical side: for sketching and the fieldnotes I used a moleskine-type A8 notebook with a waterproof cover (small enough to carry around behind the trouser belt) and a regular ‘Pilot’ gel pen. For the photo (also video) shooting I used a compact high-resolution mirrorless Ricoh GXR camera with a ‘normal’ 50mm lens, which provides a view angle close to that of a human eye.

*          Following a call from Virgin Mary Mother Teresa founded female monastic order “Missioners of Charity” in India in 1950. She started bringing critically ill people from the streets of Kolkata to an old shelter for Hindu pilgrims at the main Kali temple in 1952, which was the beginning of the Home for Dying Destitutes. Today the Kalighat Home gives place to almost a hundred of local people in critical health condition. About ten nuns and novices, a dozen of volunteers and a few paid workers provide daily care to the residents. A few patients die in the shelter every week. The Mission remains one of the most known symbols of religious charity in the world. For decades it has invoked severe discussions being an object of both furious criticism and blind veneration.

 

portrait-of-tomas-sappan

70 film

first post in a series of post with the new films by 2015 VA students:

visualgoose

Family celebrations and parties are a specialty of my family. Ever since my high school times, schoolmates and friends would grin whenever I declined a weekend getaway offer on the basis of family obligations – a common scenario, as it sometimes seems we celebrate something every second week.

Translating this party obsession within my family into anthropological terms, it can be seen as a backslash against the disintegration of the strong family ties that took place as one of the results of the modernity. For example Costa (2012) has noted that even though it seems that family members spend less time together, the number and ritualization of the special family occasions has actually been increasing. Furthermore, new rituals are being invented, “combining past experiences and gaining new forms, meanings and actors and merging tradition and modernity” (Costa 2012, 273).

The film sets out to show one of the…

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Food Not Bombs: Budapest

Visual project

Dear Vlad

Below is the link for my visual project. Since I narrate the story, it doesn’t need much explanation but before presenting it tomorrow I thought I would point to a few things I wanted to focus on while doing it, so you can judge whether I succeeded in doing so or not.

Events vs. Non-events. Living in Baudrillard’s non-eventful world, before encountering on our journey we read the news about the giant snowstorm approaching but never hesitated to ignore them as media-fabrications. We took the first pictures in the car during the traffic jam because we were bored, because nothing was happenning – while this was the event itself. The snowstorm was an event (unlike many highly anticipated natural disasters that never strike), but a very uneventful one: people sitting in their cars and waiting, us stuck in a city aimlessly wondering. The question is: How to capture this uneventful…

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Final Project: Inside/ Outside the Whale

anthropovisuality

blue whale

 

It is the link to the final project.

http://zeega.com/109863

This project originally is made to be presented as video installation. However, this project is now in the multimedia format and inevitably is presented differently. The multimedia is made in such a way that the viewer has the choice between two stories. The provided option draws on a duality between inside and outside that symbolically leads to the uselessness of this binary. Violence and magic respectively constitutes the core content of the stories. Drawing on the archival material, I deployed a myriad of images and made a collage that is in the end as elusive as the reality is.

The relation between violence and magic is not new and the prominent anthropologist, Michael Taussig wrote extensively on this topic. In his books, He tries to show the ambivalent relationship between the individual and the state, and between the state as…

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Final project: ‘Only Repair’ by Szabina

Being Visual

The final version of my very first documentary is here:

Only Repair

My ethnographic movie experiment is about an old shoemaker, who runs a tiny shop in Budapest.

This small project mixing the interview style with an observing approach tries to show the everyday life of this peculiar shoemaker. He is a remnant of his time; he works with some very traditional tools in the shop his father established, but without his son or sons. And if shoes make the man, he can truly observe the outside life by his customer’s footwear. If a wealthy person shows up only rarely, or there are suddenly more poor people, he can make his own judgments about the broader economic situation. Since he is mixing this insight with his street view, his story is certainly worthwhile to share.

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Basilica

Eka's visual diary

Tomorrow I am going to the field, my thoughts are far away from the topic Nana, bobe and me were researching and trying to visually represent during the VA class. So my post does not say anything new…

As our team described in the reflection paper the aim was to show the flow between the profane and the sacred in Basilica. An actual storyline was created during the editing. It was the most exciting part of the working process. By grouping pictures in a certain way we first “entered” into Basilica, then put together pictures of religious symbols, the service and people praying together along with the corresponding sounds (steps, chanting etc.) Then we continued this line by a “touristic part”: visitors along with sounds of camera clicks. The third part of our story ties these two dimensions together: St Stefan’s hand which represents sacred national symbol. By putting the…

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Final Project: Artful Ink

Ezgi & Iulia on tattoo artists

visàvisanthro

For this film project, we focused on two tattoo artists in two different tattoo parlors in Budapest. Our initial plan was to include all four artists that we had been interviewing and interacting with for our ethnography project. However, we decided that Rob and Kati—our two main characters—was enough for a 10-minute film project.

After getting footage while they work with their customers and also while they talk to us about tattooing as an art form, our theme for the film became clearer. Both Rob and Kati talked about tattooing in a way that it is something transformed recently into a legitimate art form. They situate themselves in their discourse, as not only tattoo artists, but artists in general. They emphasize that they make art through ink and skin, instead of paint, brush and a canvas. Since most of what they said revolved around the conception of what art is…

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Final project final product

anthrophoto

Here is the final “photo slideshow” video that we did at Belamuhely’s conductor game, using a mix of photo and audio to look at how people interact with sound:

Here is an excerpt from our essay that explains how we went about the project:

            In a sense, the mixed media allowed us to breach boundaries of the documentarist and expressionist approach as described by Edwards (1997). Barthes (1984), in his quest for meaning inside photography looks for a punctum, a unique  “prick”, a certain “accident” in the portrayed image which moves the observer. In our project, there is nothing like that. While one might look for a punctum thread in a group of photographs, this would require the viewer to have control over the time they have with the photograph. This is not the case with our project since the photos have been combined into a video format…

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Sopnica-Jelkovec neighborhood

I’ll repost here some of your posts that would be good to follow up in class.

dysgraphic squirrel

Danko Stjepanovic

I decided to share this photo that my friend and a former colleague Danko Stjepanovic took on my fieldwork site, Sopnica-Jelkovec. For those of you who are not familiar with my topic, just a few words on the location and let the photos do the rest. Sopnica-Jelkovec is a planned neighbourhood situated on the outskirts of Zagreb, in former agricultural and industry area. It was completed and inhabited in 2009. Interesting feature of the project is that it was made both by the state and the local government. State part consists of the subsidized residential construction program that was introduced in early 2000s to adress housing deficieny and to offer real estates to future inhabitants under subsidized price. The local government part was the addition on the same site. The city entered real estates market race by playing the main investor and offering the built apartments under somewhat lowered price…

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