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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Paul wrote:

"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."

Thanks Paul. I agree with you that challenging people and attempting to clarify positions is a good thing. I am not responding to this post just to start a fight, but because I think it brings up some pretty important issues. Yes, many of us are trying to engage with a wider public, but in my opinion that does not mean that there is any need to discard basic principles in the process. Also, I definitely do NOT think that using this site as a kind of Craigslist for finding exotic photographic locations is acceptable. Part of the issue, for me, is about how the public understands anthropology. If Ross had more of any idea about the goals, ethics, and principles of contemporary anthropology, I am not sure if he would have framed his question the way he did. This aspect is OUR problem, not his.

Florian wrote:

"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."

I agree with you Florian. The thing is that the photographer was not really looking to collaborate, but instead to find some suitable locations. As long as the responses were positive, he was glad to listen and take advice and suggestions. Any and all critical or questioning replies were dismissed. To me this is a problem. I don't think the OAC should be a kind of repository of remote and colorful places that the public can tap into. That's not what anthropology is all about, IMO.

Nikos wrote:

"1/ Photographers and journalists or reporters will never be anthropologists in their way of thinking because their focus is rather on their public than on the remote people they try to present. They use remote or exotic people as a SUBJECT that very easily is turn to a SYMBOL by itself and their aim is to give actuality to this symbolic subject and the spectators who interpret this as a SPECTACLE.

I completely disagree with you. There are plenty of photojournalists and documentary photographers who try to do more than just appeal to the audience. Look back into the history of photography--from Jacob Riis to Lewis Hine to Dorthea Lange to Walker Evans--and you will find plenty of examples. There are plenty of photojournalists and documentary photographers today who work with people INSTEAD of just turning them into superficial subjects in magazines. There is no reason to assume that photographers are uninterested or incapable of this kind of work--a lot of them are most definitely this kind of work.

"2/ Nobody can CONTROL thousands of journalists or photographers who are running around the World in the search of exotic subjects that will probably ''sell'' well. Anthropologists are not as medieval Theologists of persecution in Spain who were establishing their ethical codes or rules to everybody punishing the rebels.

That's true, Nikos. Nobody can control all of these photographers, and I am certainly not trying to. But does that mean that we should just stay silent and not express our views about these issues? Does that mean if we disagree with the work of a Newsweek photographer we should just keep our mouths shut--because that's just what they do? I think it makes sense to speak up. This isn't about enforcing rules, it's about taking part in the debate and defending a particular position.

Stacy wrote:

"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.

As I already wrote above, there are plenty of documentary photographers who do excellent and thoughtful work. And for all I know, Ross may be among that group. However, the way he wrote the initial question, along with his replies to questions and criticism, made me a little skeptical.

Huon wrote:

"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.

If Ross was here looking for any kind of actual advice, then he would have been interested in the positive and negative reactions to his project. As it turned out, he was more than willing to listen to folks who wanted to tell him about certain peoples and locations that fit his project. Great. But when there were some other reactions and questions, he completely dismissed them. So, was he looking to get an anthropological perspective, or was he just using this page to troll for some ideas and locations? Is THAT the role that you see anthropology playing in the wider public sphere? Are we here to tell people where to find pretty, exotic, remote, and untouched peoples? Is that what our public role should be? Not for me.

I do not understand the last part of your statement. Is it a problem if we actually take ourselves seriously? Does this mean that you think we should just ditch our ideals, principles, and ethics when we're outside of our departments and conferences? Then what's the use of all of this? For me this is about treating anthropology as a serious discipline, and not just some silly old 19th century project that focuses on finding strange and exotics peoples around the world.

Nikos wrote:

"The point is : Can anthropology as a human science play a role in the actuality ,influencing audiences through the modern mass media , or it will stay narcissically and self satisfied closed among the high walls of Academia for ever ?"

I think that anthropologists are perfectly capable of moving beyond just speaking to themselves. And I agree with you that anthropology needs to get outside of the walls of academia. What I don't understand is why you are so supportive of Ross's proposal here, and why you are not interested in asking more questions about what he is doing. That doesn't make sense to me. Should we just happily work with ANY journalist who comes along, or should we seek true collaboration while maintaining certain standards???

"propose a research for a better collaboration with journalists, reporters photographers , cameramen and film makers in order to demonstrate some of our precious discoveries to the next door (wo)man,otherwise people will continue to ignore anthropology or will misunderstand it's very meaning. ( in my country after a poll , 70% of people consider anthropology as a branch of ...medicine)."

I agree. And there are plenty of journalists and photographer out there who do great work. But not all of them do, so there is a need to ask questions, to debate, and remain somewhat critical. This means that public collaboration requires more than just getting in magazines, working with journalists, and speaking to wider audiences. It means taking part in public debates, and it means finding ways to engage in those arguments without completely watering down the principles of anthropology.

This whole discussion is a case in point. If anthropologists HAVE NO POSITION, then what's the point? Sure, a photographer wants to ask anthropologists for some suggestions. Great. So do we just collaborate with anyone and everyone, or do we ask some questions, figure out motives, assess the project, and actually contribute something? There is a need to remain somewhat discerning in all this. Collaboration means just that--working together. It does not mean simply supplying locations and suggestions without any sort of critical thinking. I think it makes sense to pay close attention to how we collaborate, who we collaborate with, and what the end results of those projects will be.
"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?

Good question, David. This is part of the reason why larger audiences do not have much of an understanding of what anthropologists actually do. In order to be taken seriously, we might actually have to engage in public discourse and support a particular position. Unless, of course, we have nothing to say.

I tend to think that anthropologists DO have plenty to say, but that's just my opinion. I don't understand certain currents on this thread that seem to support the idea that we should avoid saying anything that will rock the public boat. Then what's the point?
This is an excellent thread. Discussing the very purpose of Anthropology cannot be a bad thing, eh? This discussion reminds me of earlier active threads on the OAC where the merits of activist anthropology were debated.

Reading back over some of the posts, I see that Ross did walk in here looking for info that suited his needs, not advice on how he should do his job. If this were an Astronomy & Physics forum and an astrology columnist posted a question about stellar and planetary alignments and their influence on our daily lives, then I would expect the scientists here would give them an earful about the science Astronomers really do, how they shouldn't be misleading the public, and to not use astronomical information to further their misguided pursuits.

Why should we as scientists not do the same?


ryan anderson said:
"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?

Good question, David. This is part of the reason why larger audiences do not have much of an understanding of what anthropologists actually do. In order to be taken seriously, we might actually have to engage in public discourse and support a particular position. Unless, of course, we have nothing to say.

I tend to think that anthropologists DO have plenty to say, but that's just my opinion. I don't understand certain currents on this thread that seem to support the idea that we should avoid saying anything that will rock the public boat. Then what's the point?
I agree that Ross didn't show much inclination to move outside his initial remit. That said, how annoyed the astronomers et al. might get would have to do with their personal disposition. I know some very well-meaning and good tempered physicists - I have asked some of them very silly (probably irritating) questions and received polite answers. Unfortunately, the issue here isn't about whether some notion is inside the bounds of truth; it concerns morality - is it morally acceptable to take photos of people while thinking about them as 'remote' and 'colourful'. In addition there is the problem of the people who see the photographs; will their minds be damaged by seeing these glossy, probably enhanced, images? Or might they not go on to reflect further, or even come to some completely unexpected conclusions, as Nikos suggested? Not taking ourselves excessively seriously is not the same as saying that it is 'all just a joke': it might require us to think a little harder than usual, in fact.

The other day I heard a Brazilian anthropologist arguing that a large part of Melville Herskovits' research was useless because he was sexually repressed; hence he could not understand a key aspect of the aesthetics of Latin American kinship. Is that an outrageous statement that should be suppressed according to whatever 'ethical guideline', or is it an interesting point of discussion?

The point that Stacy and Nikos both made was that photographers take photographs while anthropologists research things anthropologically. You can either treat the point of contact between them with good humour or you can call on zealous matters of principle. But the question then is 'whose principle?' Given the character of this site, I think that that needs to remain 'open'.

If this were an Astronomy & Physics forum and an astrology columnist posted a question about stellar and planetary alignments and their influence on our daily lives, then I would expect the scientists here would give them an earful about the science Astronomers really do, how they shouldn't be misleading the public, and to not use astronomical information to further their misguided pursuits.
The point that Stacy and Nikos both made was that photographers take photographs while anthropologists research things anthropologically.

Do you really think there is such a clear cut division between anthropologists and photographers? I don't. Some of you keep characterizing ALL photographers as if they are one and the same. They aren't. Some do pretty in-depth work, and others chase Britney Spears around trying to get some tabloid shots. Then there are tons who fall somewhere in between. We have the same issue with anthropologists, whose work runs the gamut. That's no different than pretty much any discipline or profession. You have the good ones and you have the unscrupulous ones. So this discussion, to me, isn't about labels like "photographer" and "anthropologist"; it's about some underlying principles, goals, and ethics.

So what's wrong with challenging people? What's wrong with asking questions? What's wrong with clarifying intentions, goals, and perspectives? I see no reason to just blindly accept anything and everything that is posted here in the name of some vague notions about the "openness" of the internet. What is the point of that? How is responding to this post critically in any way LESS open? Isn't dialog the goal?

You can either treat the point of contact between them with good humour or you can call on zealous matters of principle. But the question then is 'whose principle?' Given the character of this site, I think that that needs to remain 'open'.

I don't think there's anything "zealous" about asking someone what they're up to. I would ask the same of some anthropologist if they posted a "project proposal" on here looking for remote, colorful, and "untouched" people to study. Everyone keeps making this about the supposed differences between the principles and methods of photographers and anthropologists. For me, that's beside the point.

Let me get this straight. Someone posts a request that basically flies in the face of contemporary anthropology (at least the anthropology that I am familiar with). And you're ok with that--since he's "just a photographer" he's off the hook. So, in the name of diplomacy and openness, we should just sit back, relax, and let this thread run its course on the main page of a site that is supposedly dedicated to "anthropology"? Then what exactly IS the point of this site?

It seems to me, if you are so supportive of openness, you would also encourage anyone who takes issue with this thread to articulate their position. But, for some reason, that's "taking ourselves too seriously." I really do not understand what exactly you are arguing for here. Should we avoid actually stating critical positions so that we don't upset anyone? At what point should anthropologists actually step forward and express a particular perspective? At what point should a position be articulated? Or should we save our opinions, arguments, critiques, and positions for overly written academic journal articles? Is THAT the proper forum for critical thinking? Do our ideas only apply in closed academic circles? Are they irrelevant once they reach open, public spaces? Not for me.

What exactly IS the "character" of this site? That's part of what I am trying to figure out here.
What exactly IS the "character" of this site? That's part of what I am trying to figure out here.

You do seem to be very exercised by that question, it is true. What I like about this site is that people can freely
chew the fat about specific matters of anthropology.
Huon, please let me bring the point to the fore once more: We are not only chewing „the fat about specific matters of anthropology“ here in this forum, in this thread. We have been asked to be of service – to provide information about “remote and colourful festivals around the world”. Some of us have happily provided this service. And it still makes me feel uncomfortable.

Because the “remote and colourful festivals” we are talking about are neither comparable to exhibitions, nor to stellar constellations – comparisons made by Paul in his previous posts. We are talking about people here, not things. And I don’t want to send them exploiters and misrepresenters. Indeed, I do not want to provide service to the latter. And so far, Ross has not provided any single argument to prove that he is no exploiter and misrepresenter.


Huon Wardle said:
What exactly IS the "character" of this site? That's part of what I am trying to figure out here.

You do seem to be very exercised by that question, it is true. What I like about this site is that people can freely
chew the fat about specific matters of anthropology.
Huon,

You do seem to be very exercised by that question, it is true.

Indeed. You're not? Are you unconcerned with how people perceive anthropology? Since this is an open, public site, does it matter AT ALL how we talk about anthropology? Does it matter what is accepted as "anthropology"? Or is it such an open term that we can call pretty much anything can be anthropology?

What I like about this site is that people can freely chew the fat about specific matters of anthropology.

I agree with Florian--this is about more than just anthropological shop talk. That's how I see it.

I'm not replying here just to spin some yarns or chew the anthropological fat, so to speak. I think this thread brings up some important issues. Of course, you might disagree with me on that. Who knows.

Earlier you wrote:

Unfortunately, the issue here isn't about whether some notion is inside the bounds of truth; it concerns morality - is it morally acceptable to take photos of people while thinking about them as 'remote' and 'colourful'. In addition there is the problem of the people who see the photographs; will their minds be damaged by seeing these glossy, probably enhanced, images?

Photographs objectify people for various purposes. So does ethnography. That's not really a surprise. What matters--at least to me--is HOW we go about doing these things. What matters is how we interact with and relate to the people on the other side of the lens (or the ethnographic notebook). The relationships matter. I have no idea what Ross's intentions were, and that's why I asked so many questions. I have known plenty of photographers who care more about getting a stack of images than the actual lives of the people they aim their cameras at. People become objects to collect, sell, and distribute. Then again, there are plenty who care about how their work affects the people they photograph. The same argument can be made of plenty of anthropologists, right? To me, this difference matters. Call it moralizing, call it whatever you want. But I think this is an important issue. People are more important than photographs and ethnographic texts, IMO.
My initial thought about this thread was that the question itself was rather mundane. I mostly did not respond because not enough information was given. Ross, in future you may wish to premise your requests for assistance with more information about the project at hand or even a portfolio of your other work. You’ll find a more welcome reception if you offer to give to - as well as take from - this community.

The OAC from its outset has sought to encourage contributions from academics and non-academics alike, including students, hobbyists and those just passing through. In this spirit, some concern has been expressed at times about non-academics, newcomers, students, etc. feeling lambasted upon arrival. We welcome them all here and then presume that we already play by the same rules. Can we expect all visitors to live up to our high ethical standards of fieldwork in a world (as Nikos reminds us) inevitably geared towards the marketplace? Is it not worthwhile to allow non-experts and experts to freely share their information and ideas?

So, I agree with Stacey that, in theory, the photographer should not be attacked for anthropological inaptitude alone. (Although I fear that the connection to NG makes it harder to accept because we all know NG and their documentaries). However, the issue quickly moved from what could have been argued as simple unfamiliarity with complex anthropological questions to stubborn close-mindedness in the face of genuine concerns raised by other members. I agree with Ryan that it is not right for someone to mine this site for ideas and then dismiss the valid concerns of field researchers with a flippant "if you don't like it, sorry". For that reason, the ensuing debate was fully warranted. The replies and competing viewpoints were exactly what I would hope for and have come to expect to find here.

For the OAC to be useful to everyone, all sides need to be open to working with and learning from each other; that includes taking on board criticism and praise. That also includes participating in the "give and take" of the learning process itself. A photographer and an anthropologist can agree to disagree about the meaning of the word “remote” or its importance in understanding the world we live in. What is not acceptable is antagonistically dismissing the views of others just because they are difficult to deal with.

The many and varied replies here have shown a fairly balanced discussion with both empathy and critique, including spelling out the basis for disagreement with this photographer’s approach and suggestions to rectify what is symptomatically wrong with documentaries aimed at “remote” societies. David's suggestion of what a conscientious photographer might choose as their subject should not go unnoticed by NG or any other establishment. Even the most critical replies offered constructive criticism, but did not receive the same courtesy of engagement in return. While we’re on the subject of the OAC and openness, that does not feel right to me.

As David and Paul note, this thread – like others on the OAC – shifted to a discussion of the potentially active role anthropology can or should play in the world in general. This is a heated subject within the discipline, let alone crossing over into other fields. When anthropologists ask non-anthropologists about anthropology, the response is full of weird and wonderful regurgitation gleaned from documentaries produced by NG and the like. Even while finding it superficial and cliché, we easily walked into the debate over the word “remote” by taking for granted what it has come to mean in the popular imagination (due in large part to documentary films). Anthropologists are hypersensitive to being handmaidens of exploitation for film or other purposes. Especially considering new and ongoing contributions to ethnographic film and visual anthropology as fields in their own right, we are all the more concerned to produce and portray quality material. It’s true that these issues belong to anthropology more than photography per se. Our own moral demons do not necessarily haunt others in equal measure.

While it is not the fault of photography, the issue came up in the context of anthropology and it should be possible to answer the question posed in this thread by dealing with these conceptual differences head-on. Where, then, do we find the common ground between popularized anthropology (via sources like NG) and morally acceptable, legitimate anthropology? Can they be one and the same? Nikos equally raises a good point: how can we make anthropology accessible if we cannot engage with those who process it into bite-sized McNuggets of mass TV appeal? How do we make anthropology relevant and marketable without watering it down with stereotype and romanticism? These may be questions for anthropologists rather than photographers, but I am not optimistic that anthropologists can affect change at NG or equivalents if the professional photographers mediating between corporations and the subject at hand (in this case, real people) are mere pawns in perpetuating the production and reproduction of stereotypical nonsense.

I also grew up watching TV documentaries about peoples around the world which cloaked them as somehow stranger than “we” are (“here we find the native in his natural habitat …”). Even then they were misinforming and capitalized on our universal fascination with otherness. I like to think that, today, the “average viewer”, bombarded as they are with reality TV, is capable of a level of skepticism we do not quite give them credit for. A growing tendency to prefer off-the-beaten-track holidays to canned “cultural” performances indicates that many travellers prefer portrayals of “other” people as human rather than caricature. National Geographic might find out of its own accord that not only are its methods ethically unsound or anthropologically void, but also outdated and irrelevant to those who can get a discount flight to a “remote destination” and check it out for themselves.

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