‘Le petit oeil de cristal, lui, ne cillait pas’: Jean Rouch and the camera eyewitness

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Friday, January 27th, 2017

Friday, January 27, 20173:00PM - 5:00PM108N, North House, Munk School of Global Affairs
1 Devonshire Place
M5S 3K7
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Seminaire conjoint d'histoire de la France / Joint French History Seminar


In a 1951 article series for Franc-Tireur, Jean Rouch described his fears as an ethnographic filmmaker. One must, he wrote, navigate between the detached observation of the ‘dry-eyed savant’ and the myopic immersion of a new ‘Robinson Crusoe’ bereft of his perspective-glass. If Rouch’s anxiety touched on a familiar cliché of both ethnographic fieldwork and documentary filmmaking, it would nonetheless operate idiosyncratically in Rouch’s work as a recurrent preoccupation with the possibilities of visual witnessing and the cooperation of human and camera eyes. In this talk, I explore the genealogies of Jean Rouch’s vision of témoignage, his experiments with the camera-as-witness, and the contribution of his filmmaking to a culture of visual witnessing prior to what Annette Wieviorka has called the ‘era of the witness’ in the 1960s.


Joseph Hawker


Will Fysh
Department of History, University of Toronto


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