The video essay has been shaping global media culture and media studies for several years. It substantially modifies thinking with and about audiovisual images.1 Initially emerging on online video platforms as a film-critical or cinephile form of expression, video essays are now impacting academic discourse as a form of publication, teaching material and research method – primarily in the Anglo-American world, but increasingly also in Europe.2 Supposedly clear boundaries between art and academia, between aesthetic and theoretical knowledge, are being called into question in the spirit of a more differentiated view – an uncertainty that essayistic forms provoke quite fundamentally.
The ZfM blog «Videography» expands on the VW Foundation-sponsored symposium «Videography: Art and Academia. Epistemological, Political and Pedagogical Potentials of Audiovisual Practices» that was held in Hanover in November 2022. It is dedicated to the video essay and the associated challenge of creatively combining academic research and artistic expression. Following current discourses and developments, this blog explores in particular the potentials and limits of videographic research practice.
As a cultural practice, video essays are part of a tradition that originated with Montaigne's concept-defining literary essays and developed in the 20th century in various other media (radio, photography, film). In the late 2000s, video essays emerged for the first time in academic-artistic form, especially in the Anglo-American world. Advancing digitalization has democratized access to audiovisual material and video editing programs and opened new channels of dissemination.3 In today's academic context, video essays are typically short videos presenting a thesis, argument, analysis and/or subjective position on one or more media objects by means of montage, voice-over and/or text and are made available on online video platforms such as Vimeo or YouTube. Video essayists work with existing audiovisual material based on theoretical, philosophical and political questions. In a manner of speaking, they use audiovisual images to ‹write› about audiovisual images.4
The work of numerous established scholars who integrate videographic practices into research and teaching in a variety of ways attests to the progressing academization of the video essay both as a subject and as a methodology.5 Film scholar Catherine Grant, for example, sees her own work as performative research that redefines the relationship between writing and the audiovisual in the production and imparting of knowledge.6 At the same time, video essays increasingly experiment with poetic reflections on the subjective character of academic knowledge and with autoethnographic analyses of reception experiences. Miklós Kiss, who critically examines the use of videographic formats in research contexts, emphasizes that videographic practices constitute a methodology of research and analysis as well as a form of communication, and must fulfil academic requirements in the process.7 He thus also addresses the problem that although video essays are increasingly an integral part of academic and artistic training, there is no consensus on academic quality criteria.8
For some years now, academic infrastructures have been emerging that contribute decisively to the recognition and institutionalization of video essays as academic practice. Leading this development are journals that specialize in video essays as forms of publication. [in]Transition was established in 2014 and is considered the first recognized platform with this focus; Tecmerin Revista de ensayos audiovisuales, as the publication forum of the Tecmerin (Television, Cinema, Memory, Representation and Industry) research group at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid, has been providing a predominantly Hispanic perspective since 2018. Meanwhile, international online publications such as NECSUS, The Cine-Files and the Danish film journal 16:9 have introduced sections for video essays or have devoted special issues to them. However, there has not yet been a comparable development in the German-speaking world despite isolated initiatives, such as the journal Research in Film & History, based at the University of Bremen, which regularly publishes video essays, indicating a growing interest in videographic research contributions. Addressing this interest is one of the key objectives of this multimodal blog. The overarching question of the «Videography» blog is therefore not the fact that, but how the video essay as an academic-artistic and pedagogical practice can shape and influence thought and cognitive processes.
The first three issues address this question with three different foci that illuminate the epistemological, political and pedagogical potential of videographic practice.
In the first issue (#epistemology), the authors explore the synthesis of theoretical and aesthetic cognitive processes in videographic work from different perspectives as well as experiential and research contexts in their video and text contributions.
The videos «Sensuous and Affective» (Oswald Iten) and «Laterally» (Maria Hofmann) investigate how the cognitive possibilities of video essays can be conceived. How does videographic work change our concepts and methods of ‹knowledge› and ‹research›? In «Arbitrary Motion,» Farzaneh Yazdandoost efficiently questions and rearranges animated film excerpts to demonstrate an aesthetic effect typical of stop-motion. Christine Reeh-Peters reflects on the cognitive capacity of video essays from a film-philosophical perspective. In «Nebular Epistemics», Alan O'Leary reflects on the contribution that an exploration of videography can make to academic-artistic dialogue in a performative way, using the subgenre of the illustrated lecture. Finally, Evelyn Kreutzer and Johannes Binotto position themselves on aspects of the personal and of vulnerability that often go hand in hand with videographic practices and discuss the topic in a subsequent conversation in «A Manifesto for Videographic Vulnerability».
The contributors to the second issue (#politics) address pressing questions about the political potentials and responsibilities of the video essay.
The videos «The Accented Sound of Camp» (Barbara Zecchi) and «Donna Summer and the White European Male Gaze» (Jaap Koojiman) both examine - from different perspectives - the national-cultural imprints of their respective film and TV material through playful, experimental, and performative acts of alienation, which reveal the racist, gendered, and xenophobic problematics inscribed into the footage. «Screen-Stage Dialogues» (Elena Igartuburu) and «Não veio dos céus nem das mãos de Isabel» (Rodrigo Campos) make visible the ‹invisible› violence, as well as the struggles for freedom and emancipation that permeate colonially influenced film history and its archives. In doing so, they poetically engage with Black performance and Black erasure. Finally, Susan Harewood's and Will DiGravio's texts explicitly address the political agency of videographic work from a broader perspective. Which influences and responsibilities do video essayists face when it comes to questions of canon and its re- or deconstruction? And how might we account for the (mostly unpaid) time and effort that is often hidden behind published video essays?
This publication is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.
- 1Christian Keathley: La Caméra Stylo, in: Alex von Clayton, Andrew Klevan (ed.), The Language and Style of Film Criticism, London/New York 2011, 176–190. Christian Keathley, Jason Mittell and Catherine Grant (eds.): The Videographic Essay: Practice & Pedagogy. Scalar: 2019. videographicessay.org/works/videographic-essay/index (21/03/2023)
- 2Volker Pantenburg: Videographic Film Studies, in: Malte Hagener, Volker Pantenburg (ed.): Handbuch Filmanalyse, Wiesbaden 2017, 4.
- 3Thomas van der Berg and Miklós Kiss: Film Studies in Motion: From Audiovisual Essay to Academic Research Video. Scalar 2016. scalar.usc.edu/works/film-studies-in-motion/index (21/03/2023)
- 4Keathley 2011, 179.
- 5Liz Greene: Teaching the Student, Not the Subject: Videographic Scholarship, in: The Cine-Files, 15, Fall 2020. http://www.thecine-files.com/teaching-the-student-not-the-subject/ (21/03/2023).
- 6Catherine Grant: The audiovisual essay as performative research, in: NECSUS, 2016, 5 (2), 255–265.
- 7Miklós Kiss: Videographic Criticism in the Classroom: Research method and Communication Mode in Scholarly Practice, in: The Cine-Files, 15, Fall 2020. http://www.thecine-files.com/videographic-criticism-in-the-classroom (21/03/2023).
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