The Made In Crofton Project
An ethnography through sound, photography and the visual, of one South London street. A look at local identity, community and what our local neighbourhoods mean to us.
More at madeincrofton.tumblr.com
Made In Crofton: A brief discussion of sound and visual method
One of the great wonders of the 21st century is our insatiable appetite to record everything we see and hear. Be it on an iPhone, over snap chat, or with a Dictaphone, many of us keep our own little private auditory archive of our experiences, documented and stored in, on and through technology. In haste of all this though, we little see any physical representations of our lives lived – instead, everything is poured into whatever technology it’s been adopted by and forgotten about, left until it’s woken up and played with. It reminds me a little of the way we archive – hoarding great labs of paperwork, left to rot, as is so grittily described in Emma Tarlo’s ‘Paper Truths’ (2003). But yet there’s something different in the hunger that comes with us recording digital experience. I guess in many ways it could seen as a compartmentalising of everyday life, a way of helping trigger our memories, but without having to delve through a huge box to do so.
Two recent conversations explained this attitude perfectly. Whilst out at a club, I watched as two people filmed the band that were playing, I asked them why they chose to record the whole thing, rather than watching then and now? They replied by saying, it helped them remember. Recording the material and then sticking it online, helped others see what they were up to, a self-inclusive way of getting friends to be part of a collective experiences. The second conversation on the other hand, with my mother, went distinctly differently. Her apathy towards a digital generation’s idea of storing memories seemed enlightening – for her, the exciting part of remembering was linked up to going through a box of photos and being surprised by what she’d find.
Les Back and Michael Bull have both stated similar experiences when it comes to the changing nature of sound and experience in our everyday lives.
“Life is increasingly mediated by mechanically produced sounds,” (Back and Bull,
Back and Bull have both talked about the difference an everyday mechanical production of sound and video is having on our everyday lives (Back and Bull, 2003). Our relations to sound and video are changing – and with it, so to is the influence these formats can have.
One concern is the archives we make, are increasingly becoming meaningless, filled with experiences, but little to no triggers. But a number of recent projects have sought to fight against this – by making our everyday conversations important. Both StoryCorps, and the Community Museum Project in Hong Kong, have proved how the careful recording of stories, can be a useful way of representing everyday life and values of a neighbourhood – these audio and visual archives, sometimes even being used for political means. With an anthropology of everyday life, becoming an increasing focus of social research, in light of authors like Certeau (1984, 1997) and Back (2007), it makes sense for us to think of how visual and oral methods could aid us in our analysis.
As anthropology moves towards considering, understanding and researching our native fields of experience – what methods are available to the digital researcher, with a fondness for visual or sound work? And how can we use visual practices to make sense of the messiness of everyday life, and tell stories that represent the everyday lived experiences of our dwellings?
In this essay, I want to go through and look at a few of the prospective methods by reviewing suggestions from Tim Ingold (2013), Gerard Forsey (2010) Les Back and Michael Bull (2003) and Sarah Pink (Pink, 2007) – in light of the production of my own work.
Reviewing Visual Methods
A number of methods, in recent years, have sought to organise an alternative means of data collection in anthropology, as traditional methods like participant observation and ethnographic work, have increasingly come under attack. In reviewing some of these methods, we will critically analyse them in light of my project on producing a multi-format digital archive, of research on one street in Crofton Park.
Tim Ingold, in his book, ‘Making’ – has talked about new methods of teaching anthropology – by a way of re-telling from a cross-disciplinary different perspective – through art, archaeology, anthropology and architecture – the 4A’s, as he calls them (Ingold, 2013).
His idea envisages a world where the creative method is at the forefront of teaching – getting researchers out of the classroom and into the landscape; they become entrenched with physical experiences (Ingold, 2013). He begins by first considering the parallels that led him to a cross-disciplinary approach.
“With their unifying themes of time and landscape, and in their mutual concern with the material and symbolic forms of human life, anthropology and archaeology have long been regarded as sister disciplines, event though they’ve not always been on speaking terms.” (Ingold, 2013; 10)
New teaching methods have sought to produce cross-disciplinary approaches, for example, in the work of Material Culture studies. By engaging, in multiple and alternative approaches, in thinking about the archiving of human practice, the influence of anthropological research is having an increasingly wider threshold, while further pushes for research that has an element of public dissemination, are pushing anthropology into the mainstream (Back, 2007; 2012).
In re-reading Ingold’s (2013) work in this light – we could see him advocating a form, of ‘live archaeology’ where anthropology acts not only to create the archive, and document human practice, but also see anthropology as a transformational experience, where the researcher is shaped, changed and learns as part of their work (Ingold, 2013).
A number of alternative methods have opened the door to alternative forms of research, too. By re-thinking classical data-gathering methods in anthropology, many have advocated for new ways of seeing experience.
Gerard Forsey has advocated for participant listening – a practice whereby, the researcher (Forsey, 2010). To Forsey, hearing operates in tandem to visual perception, and by engaging in a process of hearing on a sensory level, we can invite new forms of research. The trick is not to look at the sheer access to information; it’s to invite discussion.
“To conduct interviews with an ethnographic imaginary is to ask questions beyond the immediate concerns of the research question. They probe biography, seeking to locate the cultural influences on a person’s life, looking later to link this to the pursued question, or, in the inductive spirit of ethnography, to even change the question.” (Forsey, 2010; 568)
Back and Bull (2003) have talked about a similar practice, of ‘deep listening’. By contributing to a theory of sound as well as visual, there is a vast potential for researchers to see, and hear, the inner-meanings produced in capturing sound (Bull and Back, 2003).
By returning to work on the everyday life – we can see how producing work that is ‘in tune’ with the sensory experiences of ‘being-in-world and making it ones own,’ privileges sound as something that has the potential to (Certeau, 1997):
• “Re-think the meaning, nature and significance of our social experience
• Re-think our relation to community
• Re-think our relational experiences, how we relate to others, ourselves and the spaces and places we inhabit” (Back and Bull, 2003; 4)
It’s all these ideas that I wanted to invite, provoke and discuss – with my submission to this module, I wanted to look at how these practices contribute to a view of place-making and local identity.
Making something visual
My piece did not inherently begin with any certain format, but it did begin life with a conversation that felt like it needed to be recorded. My local high street is full of fascinating stories. Each one an exciting eccentric insight into a street that has little more to offer than a local post office, some food retailers, a few cafes, and estate agents. It’s a simple place, and I often love that relaxed nature about it. But moving here only a year ago, I found myself becoming fascinating by the voices in this little community.
Crofton Park is an odd community, a distant community, in fact – much discussion concerning it, is centred on the notion that it isn’t really an area at all – instead an amalgamation of it’s neighbouring communities – Honor Oak Park and Brockley. For it’s residents – that leads to a weird sort of polar identity, as they make their way round and interact with the area on a day-to-day basis.
My local shopkeeper is just one of many who give this street it’s stories. Whether buying cigarettes or a butternut squash, his critical eye always tells me he’s thinking something – and I often try to start up a discussion with him. Over a few months, he’s slowly told me about his clientele, the difference between a good customer and a bad customer, and insights into his personal beliefs. This clash between his religious interests, and in the interests of his customers and their vices, always felt like a point of confrontation – and something of a fascinating story, crying to be told.
The same goes for the café up the road, where months of conversation have unfolded into a prosperous relationship. I’ve come to know Chef, who cooks in the café and features in my piece, quite well. Over these few months, we’ve pondered topics as far stretching as philosophy, mental health, and his not too distant future, of having a son.
“Stories transform places into spaces – spaces into places,” (Certeau, 1988; 188)
It’s these everyday stories that have personalised the high-street in my eyes, turning it from just a street I find myself passing through everyday on the way to work, to an ‘extra-ordinary’ ordinary street. Susanne Hall’s work, ‘Ordinary Streets’ similarly expresses this view, on Rye Lane, in Peckham; where over the course of research the street becomes full with of a rich tapestry of stories about migration, gentrification and resistance (Hall, 2013).
Similar too, is the way Michaela Benson and Emma Jackson’s work, root to understand how place making is made in and around Peckham (Benson and Jackson, 2012). Their aim to understand, “how being a Peckham resident or a ‘country person’ is not just a state of mind but actualised in place and on the person through mundane processes,” is in-tune with what I wanted to do in my own work, by investigating how Crofton Park, is bought to life through the place-making act of ‘stories’ and experience told through the high street (Benson and Jackson, 2012; 6).
My aim would be to collect these stories – as a matter of public record, to create a digital archive of Crofton Park, as the community changes and develops as house prices grow. By looking at the place making experienced in the high street, my project would aim to bring together and connect the different identities and ways of seeing the street, to see how Crofton Park shaped the everyday lives of its residents.
“Personal biographies are what create different responses – both effective and emotional when confronted with the same sign,” (Jones and Jackson, 2014; 3)
In our stories lie something important – a chance to express the often confusing feeling states and conversational dichotomies that inter-thread in our everyday lives – with a platform, that helps mediate the ‘memory’ and ‘emotion’ linked to a certain experience (Behar, 1996; Plummer, 1995; Hall, 2013; Jackson and Jones, 2014). By making stories important, we shed light on the mundane everyday experiences of individuals, and the excitement and eccentricity that can be stored within them.
“Following the development of more explicit theoretical agendas relating to corporeality and embodiment in the late twentieth century (e.g. Schilling 1991) and sensory perception (e.g. Ingold 2000, 2004, 2005), ethnographers have begun to reflect more systematically on the embodied and sensorial nature of their research experiences.” (Pink, 2007; 244)
As in Pink’s ‘Walking With Video’ a compelling argument is being made towards the power of the sensorial and embodied experience in anthropology. Reflecting on it’s emergence – she says this:
“In some of the earlier literature of this kind, anthropologists often describe how they came to moments of realization about other people’s meanings and values serendipitously through their own seemingly ‘same’ sensory embodied experiences – for instance through eating [e.g. Okely 1994], sickness [Stoller 1997], or sexual intercourse [e.g. Kulick and Willson 1995].” (Pink, 2007; 244)
In looking at the same space, and understanding different perspectives, we can at least begin to understand the manifestations of what is ‘collective’ and ‘relatable’ in our experiences.
“In this context video is not merely a method of audio-visually recording people and physical settings. Rather, as I shall elaborate in this article, walking with video provides ways of (to paraphrase Feld and Basso (1996, 91) sensing place, placing senses, sensorially making place and making sense of place.” (Pink, 2007: 243)
For Pink, it’s the engagement in video and oral history work that helps us engage in the understanding of ontological ‘embodied’ experience in urban space (Pink, 2007). In this example – the device of the film, or the sound piece, allows for an inquiry into negotiating the kind of place making talked about in Benson and Jackson’s piece (Benson and Jackson, 2012). I wanted to engage with this in my work – at least aiming towards showing how people begin to ‘embody’ the spirit of a community or high street.
Whilst my work is only the beginning of capturing voices within this distinct and small space, it does at least hope to provide a sensory experience of the kinds of stories that makes up this street.
The trick was to experiment with the way the eye limits our imagination – by choosing to make a piece where the sound was removed from reality, I wanted to engage with the way human experience can be accounted for in a democracy of the senses (Back and Bull, 2003). The aim was to develop something of an acoustic and visual map for Crofton Park as talked about, by Back and Bull (2003).
Reflecting on these methods – each one of them offers a conceivable way for the visual anthropologist to fine-tune his or her work. But they are not the be all and end all. My own method, instead, decidedly born out of the work by StoryCorps and other similar organisations, aimed to use the sound and the visual to build a multi-dimensional of experience on the street.
In the piece, we hear the worries, expressions and anxieties of a developing neighbourhood. These offer a record of the current feelings felt by those in and around the street, the visual project, acting as a net for which these stories could be told.
By contributing my own digital archive of street-life, across a film, sound-piece, photography, and quotes – and hosting the material online – we are given an opportunity to re-think the local landscape, not only to the local community, but to the academic and scholarly contingent involved in marking this work.
In a way, my project aims to offer an alternative visual presentation of an ethnography – by reflecting on visual and sound methodology – to contribute to re-thinking meaning, nature and significance of our social experience, and our relations to community on an everyday London street – by we are participating in the form of ‘live archaeology’ advocated by Ingold (Ingold, 2013).
Back, Les (2007) ‘The Art Of Listening’ Oxford, UK: Berg, London, UK: Bloomsbury
—— (2012), Live sociology: social research and its futures. The Sociological Review, 60: 18–39.
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Benson, M., and E. Jackson (2012) ‘Place-Making And Place Maintenance: Performativity, Place And Belonging Among The Middle Classes’ Sociology 47.4 (793-809.
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Certeau, Michel de and Giard, Ian (1997) ‘The Practice of Everyday Life Vol. 2: Living, cooking’ Minneapolis, MO: University of Minnesota Press
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Hall, Suzi et al (2013) “Ordinary Streets”. Lsecities.net. N.p.,. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.
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Jones, Hannah and Jackson, Emma (2014) ‘Stories of cosmopolitan belonging’ London, UK: Routledge
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Plummer, Kenneth (1995) ;Telling Sexual Stories;. London, UK: Routledge. Print.
Tarlo, Emma (2003) ‘Unsettling Memories: Narratives Of The Emergency In Delhi.’ Berkeley And Los Angeles: University Of California Press