Looking for remote and colorful festivals around the world. Add your suggestions!

Hello forum world,

I thought this could be a good place to find suggestions for rural festivals around the world.  I'm a photographer and currently working on putting together a project with National Geographic to document ten of the world's most remote festivals or cultural traditions.  We are looking for very remote, colorful, and culturally interesting events.  I would be most eager to hear your suggestions. 

I can be reached directly at:
roscosdesign@yahoo.com

Best,

Ross McDermott

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Ross, thanks for your response.

If you're so skeptical of our intentions and think National Geographic is not up to the anthropological standards that you would like to see, well then, I'm sorry. We are not anthropologists. We are documentary photographers.

I think NG has some great articles. They have also published some that weren't all that great. That's not any different from any other major publication. So I am not sure what your point is. There is no reason to assume that a photographer has high ethical standards just because he/she works with National Geographic. Maybe, maybe not.

Part of the issue I have is with your presentation. Just posting some random call for "remote and colorful festivals" doesn't really sound all that professional to me--especially if you are seeking input from anthropologists who have considerable experience all over the world. Granted, this is a pretty informal context, but I still think it would have made sense to put more effort into the way you talked about the project. It might have made more sense to explain your project, talk about who you are, and maybe a little bit about why you are doing this. That would be a good start.

That said, I think David makes a good point about the underlying premise of your project. The goal of just going out and finding remote and colorful festivals--to me--isn't exactly something that I agree with. Is that what NG's reading public needs more of? Why? I am not sure how that creates any cross-cultural understanding, at all. I think that such projects are often a part of the problem, since they turn real people into magazine commodities. What do the photographed people get out of this? A little cash? The joy of being in National Geographic? For me, documentary photography (and anthropology) aims quite a bit higher than just telling stories about exotic far away people. We are in the 21st century, after all. I think the work of photographers like Evans, Lange, Salgado, Meiselas, and Nachtwey (among others) tried to move beyond this sort of superficial exoticism. There has to be something more than just commercialism and selling magazines.

As it stands, your presentation sounds pretty suspect. It came across to me as someone who is fishing for sites to shoot, and that's about it. That's how it sounded to me. Granted, you might have some great intentions, and you might be a great photographer. But why should any actual anthropologists trust or have any respect for a few lines on some random post? Why should I assume that since you mentioned NG you must be legit? A little more thought into your presentation would have gone a long way...especially if you were looking for some actual input. Also, it would have made sense if you were actually LOOKING for input--but I don't get the impression you were.

There are TONS of professional documentary photographers out there. Some of them do fantastic and highly ethical work. Some do not. So how you present yourself, and your project, is really important. But that's the case with just about anyone, whether they are applying for a grant from NSF or proposing a project to National Geographic. You're response to me--that you're "sorry"--wasn't exactly all that encouraging. It does not make me feel all that confident about your intentions or your professionalism. Is this how you always respond to skepticism? Is this how you convince people of the value of your project? You just dismiss their concerns?

I appreciate the opinion of Nikos who understands our position.

Of course you do. You appreciate Nikos' opinion merely because he told you what you want to hear. Again, are you looking for input or are you just looking to cherry pick some good locations? What will your work do for the people who you are going to photograph? What do THEY get out of the deal? How do you deal with consent? Do you tell people exactly what the project is about? How will your project impact their lives? By bringing more tourists? By emphasizing a certain aspect of their behaviors to the outside world? Then what? What issues will your work address...beyond showing audiences colorful people who live far away? Do snappy photographs in popular magazines automatically help "a larger audience understand the cultural importance and relevance" of these remote peoples? How?

I would leave you with one question. Could there be people out there who decided to study anthropology because they fell in love with National Geographic at a young age?

Sure. I loved NG when I was a kid. So what's your point? All anthropologists who liked NG when they were 10 should just assume that every photographer who proposes a project to NG is legit? We should all just put our pesky little skeptical thoughts aside and tell you where to find those REMOTE people...because of childhood nostalgia??? Really?

Do you realize the amount of work that goes into ethnographic field work? Do you realize the time investment, the political issues, and the ethical concerns that pervade anthropological work? If you did, I think you would take this a little more seriously.
Ross,

I think the real issue here is that you feel like I misused the forum as a place to post a "fluffy" photography project. Clearly my post was not adequate for your standards.

Look Ross, I think it makes sense to provide more of a description of what you are doing and why you're doing it. Especially if you're looking for some sort of input, advice, or collaboration. But that's just my opinion. Clearly, others on here disagree.

There are TONS of people who call themselves professional or documentary photographers, after all. I am sure you are well aware of this.

Perhaps I insulted your intelligence by assuming that you, or others on this forum, would like to assist a photographer who only gives a short description of his project. Do you browse all the forum posts and grade the professionalism of their description?

This isn't about insulting anyone's intelligence. Yes, if someone starts asking me for information, I do try to figure out what they are all about--especially since anyone and everyone can post something here. I think a little skepticism is pretty useful and healthy.

The post was however, adequate for others. They did not quickly judge. Instead, they offered their ideas. Might I add that I received a very helpful and academic response from an anthropologist who has worked in Japan for dozens of years.

Telling me that "this post was adequate for others" doesn't address anything that I brought up. That just sidesteps everything.

Your skepticism of National Geographic and documentary photography are justifiable, but you have a bigger fight to pick with me and it's not one I care to have.

Yes, my skepticism is justifiable. When it comes to your post and project, this isn't about some bigger fight, and this isn't about some personal issue with you. I am expressing my opinions and my concerns based upon the information I have at hand. If you are not interested in what I have to say that's your choice.

The concerns you raised are topics that we do consider, and I wish you would not have assumed the opposite.

I didn't assume anything. I clearly stated that I have no idea who you are or what you are up to. I asked a lot of questions, which you are telling me you are already taking into consideration. Well, that's good to hear.

What I didn't ASSUME was that since you're a "documentary photographer" you must be reputable and professional. There are thousands of professional photographers out there; you know that. And it doesn't take much to start calling oneself a "professional," let alone a "documentary photographer." I have seen more than my fair share of documentary photographers (at various skill levels) whose ethics and standards leave a lot to be desired. Again, I am sure that you are well aware of this. Hence my skepticism about your request and your project.

In my opinion, there is a lot that anthropologists can learn from skilled documentary photographers. Absolutely. Conversely, I think there is also quite a lot that documentary photographers can learn from experienced anthropologists and ethnographers.
Ross,

I'm glad you felt free to post your request for input on this site, and I don't thing it was a bad idea to do so. I hope that some of the push back you've encountered will not keep you from coming back. Academics often have strong opinions, and are seldom timid about sharing them.

Ryan,

I'm glad that you have returned to a more active role on the site, and look forward to more contributions. You often express skepticism about the positions and motives of those who post here, and while that can be somewhat off-putting for some (and even drive away thin-skinned contributors), I see nothing wrong with challenging people to clarify their thoughts and positions.
Hey Paul, aren’t you pretty much saying that any of the main (and conflicting) opinions discussed on this thread are fine for you? What about Keith’s call in the forum to be more programmatic? I guess, the main question can be phrased in terms of service. Do we want to be of service for people who are looking for colourful events and colourful people? Probably without a pay for those they portray? I don’t. Thanks David and Ryan for bringing this up.

Paul Wren said:
Ross,

I'm glad you felt free to post your request for input on this site, and I don't thing it was a bad idea to do so. I hope that some of the push back you've encountered will not keep you from coming back. Academics often have strong opinions, and are seldom timid about sharing them.

Ryan,

I'm glad that you have returned to a more active role on the site, and look forward to more contributions. You often express skepticism about the positions and motives of those who post here, and while that can be somewhat off-putting for some (and even drive away thin-skinned contributors), I see nothing wrong with challenging people to clarify their thoughts and positions.
Florian,

What I'm saying is that one of the main purposes of this place is for people to share their views, whether they agree or not. I'm not taking a side on this issue, but if I tried to I think I could find merits to both sides.

I'm looking around for a metaphor here... let's see: If someone on a busy street asked me for directions to a museum that celebrates things I disagree with, should I lecture them about the unfair nature of that museum, discourage their attendance, and possibly berate them for wanting to go? I could, or I might just give them the directions and let them work it out for themselves.

In a way, that's what the OAC response has been to Ross: Some have given him directions, others have questioned what he is doing it for, and even doubted the sincerity of his motives. There's nothing wrong with any of these responses, necessarily-- this is an open forum, and people should respond in a way that is consistent with their views.

So yep, I'm fine with the main and conflicting points on this thread, because that's what I want for the OAC. And if you disagree with me and my viewpoint, that's fine too!

Paul

Florian Mühlfried said:
Hey Paul, aren’t you pretty much saying that any of the main (and conflicting) opinions discussed on this thread are fine for you? What about Keith’s call in the forum to be more programmatic? I guess, the main question can be phrased in terms of service. Do we want to be of service for people who are looking for colourful events and colourful people? Probably without a pay for those they portray? I don’t. Thanks David and Ryan for bringing this up.

Paul Wren said:
Ross,

I'm glad you felt free to post your request for input on this site, and I don't thing it was a bad idea to do so. I hope that some of the push back you've encountered will not keep you from coming back. Academics often have strong opinions, and are seldom timid about sharing them.

Ryan,

I'm glad that you have returned to a more active role on the site, and look forward to more contributions. You often express skepticism about the positions and motives of those who post here, and while that can be somewhat off-putting for some (and even drive away thin-skinned contributors), I see nothing wrong with challenging people to clarify their thoughts and positions.
sorry this debate went totally off track (and became that tedious); I thought it was a bout a really important issue, one also raised by Keith Hard in a different discussion: whether there is any role anthropology should play in the current world, and if so, what this shall be. Saying that all is fine, let anyone say or think or do what they want, like Paul seems to advocate as the maxim of this forum, is in my eyes precisely what makes that anthropology is so irrelevant in today's world; if it there or not doesn't really make a difference; the overwhelming majority of people have never heard about it; and those who have probably associate it with some kind of image providers for tourist guide books, coffee table publications on exotic people and - well - information providers for glossy magazines like national geographic whose aesthetic and romantic ideology have been studied extensively (see Elizabeth Edward's different collections on colonial visual tropes; Marcus Banks' work on visual anthropology; some of the texts in a book I recently edited: The Framed World: Tourism, Tourists and Photography). Yes, we should make anthropology more relevant, but here I think not by repeating the colonial imagery so well 'marketable' for magazines such as NG and maybe expected to be delivered by anthropologists, but by carrying the very good work that has been done over the past 40 years or so in the public domain, in order to mainstream alternative ways and paradigms of seeing and representing humanity and social differences. If photographers such as Ross seem to search for these 19th century visual tropes in a contemporary world in which remoteness has become a kind of myth that in actual reality not exists, then I believe anthropologists should not only critizice him for perpetuating such racist categories, totally rightfully (and here I find Nikos argument that we should help photographers cause they have to do their job totally unacceptable; as saying we have to help a dominant political power cause people just do their job), but also be constructive and tell him that there are actually some very good paradigms out there that allow us to picture people not in terms of their remoteness and colourfullness ( which are selfcentric subjective criteria by outsiders), but maybe in terms of their cultural creativity, the way they work matter, ways in which they connect to modernity, ways in which they make themselves visible to photographers such as Ross, ways that show them as social actors, not merely as remote natives endangered by some kind of threatening modernity. Ryan's questions to Ross remain here completely unanswered; it is not about intellectual games here, but about a very tangible topic. I expect from any responsible journalist, and that includes photo reporters, to prepare their work by researching their topic; and if any journalist suggests a topic such as 'remote and colourful people/festivals', then they should read about the genealogy of these topics; and there has been very good literature dealing with people beyond naive concepts such as those suggested here. One of my students for instance, Tamas Regi, has shown how Mursi people of south Ethiopia dress up for photographers, and are sometimes being dressed up (one photographer found it fun to picture a Mursi with an I-Pod), and how thus a certain image of the Mursi is carried to the outside world; an image that merely works within the contact zone with outsiders, yet in turn has the power to define the Mursi as a social entity. Here is a topic, Ross! Maybe not marketable enough?
Hello Ross,

I would like to add my suggestion to the list. In Brazil, there is a very special festival and tradition that has been carried on for a few centuries. It is called Festa de Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte (Festival of the Sisterhood of Boa Morte) or festival of the sisterhood of the good death. If you are not already aware of this festival, I think you will find this interesting. Just do a goggle search on Sisterhood of the Boa Morte or click the following links.

http://www.brazilnuts.com/festivals/boamorte/index_more.asp
http://www.celebratingwomen.com/cw_pagesv2/festival9.html
http://www.celebratingwomen.com/cw_pagesv2/festival9.html

thanks...tchau
The arguments generated in this forum have been quite interesting. I would side with David and Ryan if this was based on an anthropological account. But as Nikos has raised key issues, which stem from the very intent of Ross's enquiry. As I viewed this discussion from a photographer's point of view, I interpreted the question away from an anthropological core, as a study on "remote festivals of undiscovered peoples" is no longer THE objective within our discourse. However, this is not the say that other disciplines and professions share the same approach to society. Hence, I hope that Nikos' comments have not fallen upon deaf ears, and that we do not persecute the photographer for his anthropological inaptitude as it pertains to this.
@ Stacy: we don't persecute anyone. But we observe that there are powerful, yet fundamentally racist tropes used in modern society to visualise Others as colourful and remote (there is no one more or less colourful or remote in the world; as I suggested before; this is a question of perspective). This surfaces here in particular (but many other fields and contexts of mediation could be quoted) in a commercial photojournalism project. And no, I don't think it is okay to say, for the sake of liberalism or because national geography or photography as a practice stands for something that many of us like, that people shall - naively or not - continue to perpetuate such tropes. If anthropology wants to play a role in society, then it should defend its insights in the public arena and not duck in, saying it is all too deep or theoretical, or whatever. It is about something very concrete here, and that is the way in which 'other' people are pictured for the sake of satisfying a modern - maybe Western - audience. Sure, it is nice and socially important to tell stories about imaginary people or figures, and it is one of the cores of human life or humanity tout court. But when other people are subjected to these stories (destined, as Niko well says, to a specific audience), when they are framed and elevated as somehow disconnected 'native' people living outside history, in harmony with nature, etc. then repeating such tropes is not only terribly boring at an artistic level (though surely marketable), but also imposing upon people forms of life they may wish, or may not wish. There are tons of examples of such historical contexts studied by anthropologists and cultural historians. Why ignore these very good insights? Is anthropology damned to eternal romanticism? Ross, there are very good anthropological studies on Boa Morte in Bahia, but calling these ceremonies 'colourful' and 'remote' is just a very bad joke. The remoteness may well be located in you, not in the people you try to picture. As I said in my first comment, why not go to Koeln Carnival, in Germany; that is by far the remotest thing I have seen in my life.
The important point here is that National Geographic are finding it increasingly difficult to find 'remote' activities ("who are you calling 'remote'?"). I agree with Nikos and Stacy; isn't it a little bossy for anthropologists to tell other people that they are racists because they like to look a things that are unfamiliar to them? Of course, the original appeal to the forum pushed more or less every politically incorrect button that an cultural anthropologist could think up, but then maybe that is good because it reminds us not to take ourselves excessively seriously.
Huon, do you mean we do research, develop lots of ideas about the world, develop ethical guidelines, take our research serious, and then when it comes to defend what we think in a public arena, we say, well listen it´s all just a joke, let´s not take ourselves too serious? isn´t that kind of attitude what makes anthropology irrelevant?
Nikos,

we train students many of whom in turn will work for companies, gouvernments and NGOs; and here we have a real impact on ideas and concept through which society constitutes itself. many of us work directly as government advisors and contribute to the development of policies and policy programmes (I consult UN agencies); and here the impact is potentially enormous where arguments and concepts flow into projects, policy programmes and action plans. And I totally agree with you that we should collaborate more and better with journalists, but here not providing them with raw material to perpetuate romantic narratives of culturally remote people, but by elaborating, explaining and promoting paradigms that better translate the ethics of a common humanity (if that is what we share). And this last point, I believe, was the point of this discussion.

David

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