Visual Culture Video Essays by Jennifer Julian Johnson, Eric Paison and Tom Connelly, Claremont Graduate UniversityThis collage of three student videos is from the course “Visual Research Methods” at the graduate program in Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University (course instructor Professor Alexandra Juhasz and project coordinator Ana Thorne).
The course looks at areas of visual research within Cultural Studies—Visual Culture, Ethnographic and Documentary Media, and Digital Storytelling—linking these traditions to larger fields and methods within Cultural Studies: the Humanities and Critical Theory, the Social Sciences (particularly Anthropology and Sociology), the Arts and New Media respectively. The students were asked to consider visual research by using methods that were themselves visual. A video essay, ethnography or documentary, and digital storytelling project were required coursework, along with one traditional research paper.
Being asked to both research or “read” the visual, but then also to present their findings or “write” visually (which few of them were trained to do), made apparent (and often challenged) the larger, invisible, and mostly binding institutional structures of academia and graduate training therein: the prevalence and ubiquity of the word even in a culture increasingly dominated by images, and a growing academic interest in the visual; the continuing, institutionalized commitment to a training and output in erudite, complex, and refined writing; the expected outcome of academic labor as the creation of standard objects that speak to other scholars through a carefully researched and referenced expert tradition; and the unspoken purpose behind disciplinary training and expertise being the production of knowledge over action, sentiment or personal expression.
Thus, to write their academic essays in video proved at once a challenge for the students, as well as to graduate education more broadly. The essays collected here are examples of the students’ first attempt to write visually, using the assigned format of the video essay. We see a hodge-podge of approaches including voice-over analysis, direct-cinema, rhetorical documentary, visual and dialectic montage focused upon areas and theories of visual culture as diverse as the nature of evidence and pleasure, the gender and race politics of teen pop culture and the status of the visual, not to mention visual culture itself.
Professor Alexandra Juhasz